Hezbollah denies responsibility for truck bomb blast that killed Hariri
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, said Wednesday his group was not behind the 2005 truck bomb blast that killed Lebanon's former prime minister. Many fear instability if an investigating tribunal issues indictments in the Hariri assassination against Hezbollah officials.
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Hezbollah includes a formidable military component that fought Israel to a standstill in a month-long war in July 2006. Since then, Hezbollah has undergone an extensive recruitment, training, and rearmament drive in preparation for the possibility of another war with Israel. Israeli officials say that Hezbollah is now armed with more than 40,000 rockets, some with ranges capable of reaching Tel Aviv and some fitted with guidance systems to strike specific infrastructure and military targets, such as airfields.Skip to next paragraph
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Fears of another war erupting have been running high for months, but Hezbollah military commanders say that addressing the potential ramifications of the tribunal has become an immediate priority.
“The Americans are trying to use the tribunal as a weapon against us,” says Abu Mehdi, a Hezbollah unit commander who asked that his full name not be used. “Before we can confront Israel, we must prepare the home ground so that no one in Lebanon can take advantage of the tribunal to weaken us.”
'Anything is possible'
Asked if that included the possibility of armed members of Hezbollah taking to the streets to defend the “resistance,” Abu Mehdi said “anything is possible."
In May 2008, militants from Hezbollah and its political allies overran the mainly Sunni western half of Beirut and clashed for several days with Druze fighters in the hills overlooking the capital. The fighting was sparked by a decision of the then US-backed government to shut down Hezbollah’s private communications network, a move that Nasrallah at the time said constituted a “red line."
The brief but fierce clashes left over 100 people dead and brought the country to the brink of civil war. An agreement brokered by Qatar ended the violence and eased three years of political deadlock. However, the relative calm of the past two years could be threatened and sectarian wounds between Shiites and Sunnis reopened if the tribunal accuses members of Hezbollah of involvement in the assassination of Hariri, a Sunni.
The rumblings of unease are echoing in political and media circles in Lebanon.
Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician, warned on Sunday following a meeting with the Spanish ambassador to Beirut against the “politicization” of the tribunal, an outcome that could “wreak havoc” in Lebanon.
“Definitely this process [the tribunal] will affect everything in Lebanon and the international organizations in it,” he said, in an apparent reference to the 13,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, to which Spain is a key troop contributor. “Matters will get out of everyone’s hand at that time,” he added.
Wahhab’s comments were interpreted by some in Lebanon as a veiled threat against UNIFIL, prompting the Spanish ambassador to reportedly seek a clarification.
A statement released Wednesday by the March 14 coalition, a political opponent of Hezbollah, slammed the “poisonous atmosphere” surrounding the tribunal’s work and criticized threats “to shake internal stability”.
Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister and son of Rafik Hariri, on Monday reiterated his support for the tribunal, saying that it was a “big component of stability in Lebanon."
“We will accept any decision that comes out of the tribunal, whatever it is,” he said.
Yet, Hariri could face an impossible situation if the tribunal issues indictments for Hezbollah members. Hariri heads a coalition cabinet which includes a member of Hezbollah. Any attempt to compel Hezbollah to comply with the tribunal’s demands could result in the collapse of the government, analysts say.
“The net result? Paralysis, instability, and uncertainty,” says Mr. Muhanna, the political analyst.