On Valentines Day in 2005, a massive blast cut through the peaceful Lebanese city of Beirut. Outside of the infamous St. George Yacht Club, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle as the motorcade of then PM Rafiq Hariri passed. The blast left a massive crater 2 meters deep and killed 23 people including the Prime Minister. Accusations surfaced quickly; Israel, al-Qaeda, Iran. Blame quickly centered on Syria, whose relationship with Hariri soured after the latter demanded that the Syrians cease occupying Lebanon. A special tribunal (STL) was formed to investigate the murder and to find those responsible.
[tweetmeme] Today, Beirut seems to be a physical manifestation of the power of Hariri and the power of his assassination. The downtown district has been completely rebuilt (by the former PM) and a new, beautiful mosque is an impressive symbol of Lebanon’s crawl out of civil war. Yet, the side of the St. George’s Hotel that faced the blast in 2005 is still completely torn apart, serving as a daily reminder of the violence that claimed the life of Hariri. Today, the STL has still not concluded its investigation and the assassination of the former PM still hangs over the vibrant country.
Every now and again the assassination and accusations of responsibility resurface in Lebanese politics, creating a stir. Last year, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published an article claiming that the Shi’ite group Hezbollah was responsible for the assassination. Obviously, the article created an enormous controversy as the group moved to deny the report while those looking to disarm Hezbollah mounted a political attack. The Der Spiegel article seems to be in the past now, but the STL is still creating a stir in Lebanon.
The interest in the assassination has resurfaced again. Now the STL is dispatching a team of 3D filmmakers to Beirut to take pictures, film the scene of the assassination and question witnesses. Included in this new round of questioning are apparently six Hezbollah members, reopening theories of Hezbollah involvement in the assassination. Qifa Nabki reports that Hezbollah is somewhat cooperating with the investigators.
Intriguingly, al-Akhbar is reporting that there is a mystery witness being questioned by the investigators. The reports says that an unidentified man was brought, handcuffed, to the headquarters of the STL in the 23rd – disguised behind a fake mustache and glasses. After 100 minutes, the man exited the headquarters, undisguised, and traveled to South Beirut, switching taxis several times. Besides introducing some interesting new details and creating many more theories, the mystery man gives little new evidence to those looking for an answer.
The Hariri case seems to be the case that just won’t go away. Investigators seem incapable of solving it definitively and it has an extraordinary ability to keep coming back into the public spotlight. While the ideal scenarios would be to find those responsible for the assassination, it remains unlikely as Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah all seem loath to fully cooperate with the STL. Furthermore, Wa’im Wahhab – generally seen as the Syrian mouthpiece in Lebanon – has warned that continuation of the tribunal’s investigations could lead to a further deepening of the Sunni-Shi’a divide in Lebanon, possibly even civil war.
Lebanon is a tinderbox of sectarianism; in 2009, polls showed that 97% of the Shi’ite community supported and had confidence in Hezbollah chief Nasrallah while only 2% of Sunnis felt the same. Currently, Hezbollah is generally seen by all Lebanese as a force that could provide protection from Israeli aggression – leading to some unstable national unity. However, if the STL demonstrates that Hezbollah was behind the Hariri assassination, there would be serious repercussions in Lebanese society.
Lebanese people need closure on the Hariri assassination. The St. George Hotel needs to be repaired and the tribunal needs to finish its investigation. Each look at the destroyed hotel and each leak to the press from the STL leads Beirut back into its troubled past. Indeed, closure is necessary. Unfortunately, the answer that most seek could lead to major social instability in the country.
Photo from Travel Pod