There is a saying in Arabic about a mountain that went into labor to give birth to a mouse. It is mostly used to explain a pathetic or disappointing outcome after a long process with high expectations. It applies perfectly to how the Lebanese felt after Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s press conference on Monday in which he tried to prove Israel’s involvement in the February 2005 murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
Nasrallah succeeded in forcing almost all Lebanese to watch his presentation for more than two hours, glued to the TV, anticipating a serious and highly-significant turn of events. But the leader of the Party of God fell short in delivering the goods.
Nasrallah may have reassured his own supporters that Hezbollah played no role in the killing, but the footage from Israeli UAVs filming the usual routes Rafik Hariri allegedly used when driving in Beirut, Saida and Mount Lebanon, combined with a power-point presentation on Israeli spies and statements by Israeli officials on Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination, did not prove Israel’s involvement either.
The “evidence” Nasrallah presented can be easily refuted. It is well known that Israel’s MK surveillance planes have filmed every inch of Lebanon, that it has agents and surveillance equipment on the ground, and that it has shown that it is more than capable of liquidating its enemies. In short, there were no surprises, which was not unexpected given that Nasrallah’s objective was not to surprise us.
But to give the Hezbollah leader some credit, apart from soothing any anxieties his supporters may have had, he showed us the extent to which his party has become technologically advanced. The footage he presented made a big impression, and not just on Hezbollah’s supporters, showing that the party can directly tap into video feeds from the many aerial drones circulating above Lebanon to Israel’s military command. He also reminded us of previous Israeli murder missions in Lebanon, highlighting the country’s historic disregard for Lebanese sovereignty.
However, at the end of the day, the footage, according to the public and experts, was meaningless. It did not add anything new to our knowledge of Israel’s capabilities and intentions, and it failed drastically at constituting evidence.
But Nasrallah knew that. His intention was to send a clear message to the Lebanese and the international community that Hezbollah rejects the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and anything that comes from it. That is why he did not provide the STL with the information he’s been gathering.
Of course, even if the STL wanted to take his so-called “evidence” into consideration, there is serious doubt that Hezbollah will let the investigation team know just how it got the footage. Nasrallah does not have to prove it is authentic as long as his supporters believe so. This means that whatever indictment the STL issues, Hezbollah will not accept it. Still, Nasrallah demanded that the Lebanese government form an internal committee to carry out an independent investigation that would, of course, base its inquiry on Israel’s involvement in the assassination.
By giving the Lebanese government an internal option, Nasrallah was simply telling PM Saad Hariri that he’d better take this alternative or face the possibility of violence between the Shia and the Sunnis, which would spread to the whole region.
He said this very calmly, dropping the tone that he used prior to last month’s Saudi-Syrian-Lebanese summit. This indicates that Hezbollah decided to abide by the summit’s statement of avoiding violence, at least until further notice.
The Syrian regime now, having agreed with the Saudis on preserving calm in Lebanon, won’t let Nasrallah violate the rules. However, as the Syrians still want to undermine the STL, they have supported Nasrallah’s presentation and have asked for it to be taken into account. Nasrallah is now waiting for Hariri’s answer, hinting through reports on Hezbollah media of a change of government should he not take his “recommendations” seriously.
What Nasrallah knew but did not tell his supporters is that despite it all, the STL will go on, independent of any internal struggle in Lebanon. Even if Nasrallah wishes to kill the tribunal, he cannot, despite the power his party wields over the country.
So now what? Will the STL change course because Nasrallah has said it must? Of course not. Will Nasrallah change his rhetoric? Of course not. But one can say that things are not quite the same after Nasrallah’s Monday conference, only because now the debate has shifted, and whoever wishes to discuss the STL will have to include the footage, whether or not they are convinced by it.
On the other hand, when and if the indictments are handed down, things will also not be quite the same for Nasrallah, who will be even more cornered. And until then, the Lebanese will probably witness more threats, messages and an escalation of tension.
Hanin Ghaddar is managing editor of NOW Lebanon