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Lebanese leaders quiet on Spiegel's bombshell report

Two weeks before crucial June elections, rival camps have refused to react to allegations that Hezbollah was behind the polarizing Hariri assassination in 2005.

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Der Spiegel's revelations – attributed to an unnamed source or sources "close to the tribunal" and internal documents – make for sensational reading, but the plot falters when it comes to Hezbollah's motive in wanting Hariri dead. The magazine concludes that "Hariri's growing popularity" was a "thorn in the side" of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Shiite Hezbollah, which led to the decision to kill the Sunni billionaire.

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Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb dismisses the claimed motive as "laughable," noting that Nasrallah's influence in Lebanon and the Middle East was greater than that of Hariri.

If Der Spiegel's allegations have a basis in fact, analysts suggest a more plausible scenario is one in which elements within Hezbollah assisted in the assassination at the behest of a third party rather than orchestrating the murder itself.

Late-night chats between Hariri, Nasrallah

In the months before his death, Hariri's relationship with the Syrian regime, which then dominated Lebanon, steadily worsened. During the same period, however, Hariri struck up a personal friendship with Nasrallah, helping ease tensions over their long-standing differences between their political visions for Lebanon.

The two men met about once a week late at night for secret sessions in which they discussed Lebanese and regional affairs while snacking on fruit and sipping cups of Turkish coffee. They had much in common. Both men originated from south Lebanon and shared a liking for jokes and good humor. Their influence extended well beyond the parochial confines of Lebanon, unlike most Lebanese politicians.

In January 2005, just one month before he was killed, Hariri persuaded Jacques Chirac, the then-president of France and a close friend, not to support the inclusion of Hezbollah on the European Union's list of terrorist organizations.

Nasrallah reciprocated the gesture by telling Hariri at their last meeting on Feb. 11 that he would send a delegate to Damascus to try and attempt a reconciliation between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the former premier. The delegate apparently was in Damascus on Feb. 14, the same day that Hariri died.

Conducting assassination alone nearly impossible

Granted, the fact that Hariri and Nasrallah shared cups of coffee and a joke each week does not suggest that Hezbollah remains blameless in Hariri's death. Yet most Hezbollah observers believe Nasrallah recognized that Hariri preferred compromise over confrontation and therefore was a potential asset rather than a threat. In Lebanon, only Hariri had sufficient influence to persuade the international community not to pursue Hezbollah's disarmament too diligently but leave it up to the Lebanese to resolve.

More pertinent, even if Hezbollah did have a compelling motive for wanting Hariri dead, analysts believe it would be almost impossible for the Shiite organization to embark upon an such a bold assassination unilaterally.

The impact of such an event was bound to have serious consequences for its benefactors in Iran and Syria – as demonstrated by the domestic and international outcry following Hariri's murder, which forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon two months later.

•Click here to read Der Spiegel's report.

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