The Party of God and Bringing Down Lebanon, Part II

Could the STL bring down Assad?

I just finished summing up the STL indictment of four men in connection with the 2005 assassination of then Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon, noting that the STL may not be finished with its indictments. For now, the situation in Lebanon is truly wait and see. Hezbollah could be simply sacrificing these four men in an attempt to make the entire tribunal go away – though that seems unlikely as Hezbollah has said that it will not allow its members to be tried by the Tribunal – or it could be the beginning of a number of indictments by the STL targeting the Party of God. Should more indictments come, it will be interesting to see if the Lebanese government – currently headed by Najid Mikati – would take the appropriate steps to find and arrest those wanted by the STL. If the government pursues the accused (and any others who may be indicted in the future), it is difficult to say whether or not Hezbollah – and its mass of weaponry – would allow the state to make any positive steps.

Patrick Martin has a nice piece in the Globe and Mail discussing the possibility of arrests being made. Martin and those he interviewed seem skeptical. Moreover, the article nicely links the indictments to the unraveling situation in Syria. To sum up the article, if the STL indicts Syrian officials, it could facilitate the fall of Assad and the weaker Assad is, the more flexible Hezbollah will be facing the Tribunal. From Martin’s piece:

…”nothing’s going to happen,” said Karim Makdisi, deputy director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, “and Hariri knows it.”

“If they try to serve the warrants they’ll be blocked,” Mr. Makdisi said. And if they ever should actually arrest someone, all hell will break loose…

“Lawyers will spin things out,” Mr. Makdisi said, suggesting they’ll comply with the technical reporting requirements but make absolutely no real move to arrest anyone.

“It’ll be a case of ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ ” he said.

Of course, it helps in protecting Hezbollah that Lebanon’s new Justice Minister, Shakib Qortbawi, is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, a Maronite Christian party led by General Michel Aoun, a close ally of Hezbollah. The Justice Ministry was the one post Gen. Aoun insisted his party be given during deliberations to form the coalition. His allegiance to Hezbollah won him their support, and gave him the largest number of seats in cabinet…

In other words, the government will put stability and civil peace ahead of the arrest warrants, and the situation will remain as it is for a long time to come.

“Lebanon may be the safest place for the four wanted guys to be,” Mr. Makdisi said. “They don’t even have to hide out.”

The only complication in all of this is if Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad should fall from power. Indeed, the warrants may not be the last ones the tribunal issues…

With all the uproar currently in Syria, an indictment against Syria’s leaders could help propel Mr. al-Assad from office.

In that event, Hezbollah will become very concerned. The Assad regime is a close ally and the principal conduit to Hezbollah’s main benefactor, Iran.

“The worse things get for Assad, the more nervous Hezbollah becomes,” Mr. Makdisi said.

The question is, says Joseph Bahout, a lecturer in Syria-Lebanese studies at Sciences Po in Paris, “If the Syrian regime gets weaker, will Hezbollah gradually become more flexible … or, on the contrary, will it increasingly pursue a radical position and bitterly defend its share [of power]?”

I added the emphasis. With so many unknowns, Lebanon and the STL’s possible indictments in Syria, today really is the beginning of a wait and see period.

Photo from Enduring America

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