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In fifteen years between Hariri’s assassination and the Beirut explosion what did we learn?

August 25, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Statue of Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafic Hariri is seen in Beirut, Lebanon on 16 August 2020. [Enes Canlı – Anadolu Agency]

There is no doubt that the verdict of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon regarding the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the former Prime Minister, shocked those searching for the truth. The court’s ruling was a disappointment, because it acquitted the leaders of the criminal Syrian regime and Hezbollah, and only convicted one of the four defendants who were brought to trial. Salim Ayyash, the former Hezbollah leader, was convicted in absentia of organising and carrying out the attack, when a suicide bomber killed Hariri and 21 others on 14 February 2005. Nobody knows Ayyash’s whereabouts, whether he is still alive or if Hezbollah killed him to destroy any evidence and conceal the truth.

The court did not close the case, which has left its mark on the Lebanese political system and almost led to civil war, with the Lebanese people split into two alliances, one represented by Hezbollah and its aides who are loyal to the Syrian regime, known as the March 8 Alliance, and the March 14 Alliance, consisting of the Future Movement and its fellow Maronites, the enemies of Syria such as the Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea, and the Aoun movement when General (now President) Michel Aoun returned from Paris and before his transformation into an ally of Hezbollah and Damascus.

This tribunal cost the Lebanese treasury nearly $1 billion, but it did not answer the most important question: who gave the order for Hariri’s assassination? Is it realistic to believe that Ayyash decided to act on his own volition? Logic dictates that someone else tasked him with this operation, and that this someone, whether a state, a movement or an individual, had a direct interest in killing the Lebanese Prime Minister. The political circumstances of the assassination were noted by the tribunal, which pointed out that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Hariri and some of his political allies who were against them; in other words, that Syria and Hezbollah would benefit from killing Hariri. However, there is no physical evidence against either Syria or Hezbollah. This is often the case with political crimes that are tried in criminal courts, as if they were criminal offences, but there is a huge difference.

A supporter of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri holds posters outside the Lebanon Tribunal on 18 August 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands. [Pierre Crom/Getty Images]

A supporter of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri holds posters outside the Lebanon Tribunal on 18 August 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands. [Pierre Crom/Getty Images]

I was disappointed by the verdict, as I believed that the tribunal was the first stage of stripping away the immunity enjoyed by killers in Lebanon for too long; political assassinations have been taking place there for decades. This verdict was for a crime committed 15 years ago, and several similar crimes have since been committed in Beirut. Israel’s siege of the capital in 1982 killed more than 1,000 civilians, then Hezbollah invaded Beirut neighbourhoods in 2008, killing dozens. More recently we saw the terrible explosion that destroyed Beirut Port and a number of surrounding neighbourhoods, killing, wounding and displacing thousands. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is involved in the ongoing war in Syria. Waiting for the verdict brought to mind the struggle during which many people have paid the price for seeking justice.

Fifteen years have passed between the assassination of Hariri and the tribunal’s verdict; these years were full of change in both Lebanon and Syria. In July 2006 a war led to tremendous destruction in Lebanon, deemed necessary for Hezbollah and the Syrian regime to move beyond the repercussions of Hariri’s assassination and erase the remaining effects of the “Damascus Spring”. The outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions in late 2010 and 2011, and the fall of the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, as well as the arrival of the revolutionary wave in Syria in March 2011, put the Assad regime, Hezbollah and the entire Iranian axis back into defensive mode.

It is possible that the massive explosion in Beirut at the beginning of August was an operation similar to the assassination of Hariri, with the same people behind it hoping to terrorise the Lebanese people just before the tribunal issued its verdict. It seems to me that those responsible in both cases have become known to everyone near and far.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.