The big news in Lebanese politics these days is Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s exoneration of Syria in the matter of his father’s assassination. Here’s the relevant section of last week’s interview in Al-Sharq al-Awsat:
وقال الحريري: «فتحت صفحة جديدة في العلاقة مع سورية منذ تأليف الحكومة». وتابع: «يجب على المرء أن يكون واقعيا في هذه العلاقة لبنائها على أسس متينة، كما عليه أن يقيم السنوات الماضية، حتى لا تتكرر الأخطاء السابقة. ومن هنا، نحن أجرينا تقييمنا لأخطاء حصلت من قبلنا مع سورية، مست بالشعب السوري، وبالعلاقة بين البلدين. علينا دائما أن ننظر إلى مصلحة الشعبين والدولتين وعلاقتهما، ونحن في مكان ما ارتكبنا أخطاء؛ ففي مرحلة ما اتهمنا سورية باغتيال الرئيس الشهيد، وهذا كان اتهاما سياسيا».
وعن موقفه من قضية «شهود الزور»، قال الحريري: «حكي الكثير عن موضوع شهود الزور. هناك أشخاص ضللوا التحقيق، وهؤلاء ألحقوا الأذى بسورية ولبنان.. وشهود الزور هؤلاء، خربوا العلاقة بين البلدين وسيسوا الاغتيال». وعن محكمة الحريري، قال: «لا أريد أن أتكلم كثيرا عن المحكمة، لكني سأقول فقط إن للمحكمة مسارها الذي لا علاقة له باتهامات سياسية كانت متسرعة».
[Rough translation: We made mistakes that had a detrimental effect upon our relationship with Syria. We have to always take into consideration the interests of both countries and both peoples. We accused Syria of assassinating Rafiq al-Hariri, and this was a political accusation. There were people who misled the investigation, and these false witnesses were the ones who ruined the relationship between Syria and Lebanon and politicized the assassination. The Tribunal has its own course that has nothing to do with hastily-made political accusations.]
As I’ve been arguing for the past few months, the Saudis (and perhaps also the Americans) are no longer interested in using the STL as a weapon against Syria. Hariri’s latest statement simply formalized what has long been an unspoken fait accompli.
Only two questions remain:
1) How will Hariri, the Saudis, and their Western allies deal with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon if/when it releases a damning indictment against Hizbullah?
2) What effect will the coup against the STL (by its own supporters no less) have upon Lebanon’s standing in the international community?
On the first question, it seems to me that the outlines of a final deal are beginning to come into view. Hariri has exonerated Syria, and has more or less already exonerated Hizbullah’s leadership (if we are to believe Nasrallah). With these two potential targets safeguarded, there are only a few ways for Hariri to defuse the STL:
(a) Blame the crime on “undisciplined members” of Hizbullah.
(b) End cooperation between the STL and the Lebanese government by blaming the “false witnesses” for misleading the investigation.
(c) Denounce the STL altogether and set up a Lebanese commission to formally authorize Nasrallah’s “evidence” against Israel.
None of these options is very satisfactory. As Hariri said himself, the STL has a life of its own, and those who imagine that he will be able to simply denounce it and move on with business as usual are fooling themselves.
What he seems to be doing is continuing his policy of containment: portraying himself as a friend of Damascus and Dahiyeh while waiting for the STL to deliver its results. At that point, he’ll rush to Assad and Nasrallah’s defense, but the damage will be done. It won’t be what some had once hoped for — regime change in Damascus, disarmament for Hizbullah — but it won’t be nothing.
Finally, apologies for being off the radar for a few weeks. I’m finishing my doctorate this year (inshallah), and preparing to apply for academic jobs. I imagine that posting will be fairly light throughout this semester.