July 21, 2005
Suspect named in Hariri investigation
Well, sort of. In an interview with Le Figaro, Detlev Mehlis, head of the UN commission investigating Hariri's death, has named Mustafa Hamdan as "a suspect", but at the moment he's only suspected of trying to obstruct the investigation by clearing the crime scene prematurely. Hamdan is the commander of the presidential guard, and the only senior chief of the security services who was not fired since the Hariri assassination.
In the interview, Mehlis also says that he doesn't know if he's going to need a 3-month extension, but that the commission is doing its utmost to return its report by September 15th. He expects to interview Rustum Ghazaleh (chief of Syrian security in Lebanon at the time) soonish ("très bientôt").
In other Leb news, Nick Blanford has a good roundup in the Christian Science Monitor, including:
- the new Lebanese cabinet, 2/3 controlled by the Hariri-Jumblatt group, and 1/3 by allies of President Lahoud along with Amal and Hezbollah. (Mustapha at Beirut Spring counts 16 anti-Syrian, 7 Lahoud-HB-Amal, with apolitical former professor and World Council of Churches hand Tarek Mitri as the swing vote - apparently, 1/3 is the magic number to obstruct a cabinet decision. UPDATE: See also this Naharnet article, which names Mitri and Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh as the two swing votes.
- Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces and the last of the Lebanese Christian militia leaders still alive from the civil war, was released from jail. Lebanese celebrated by breaking into armed clashes, killing one Shi'ite teenager.
- The ongoing border slowdown by Syria, which has now extended to the arrest of several fishermen.
Elsewhere in the Lebanese blogosphere, the Lebanese Politics Journal has a novel theory on the terrible season Lebanese tourism is having - it's not that the bombs are scaring away tourists (particularly from the Gulf and elsewhere in the Arab world), it's that Saudi elites are staying home:
Saudi princes own a number of properties in Beirut's downtown and in Aley. They have indicated that they will arrive in September, but not before then.
This was surprising to many hotel and furnished apartment managers because the Saudis had previously made reservations. Saad [Hariri] had done a good job convincing the Saudi princes and notables to show up in Lebanon this summer. He guaranteed them that they would not be the targets of attacks, even if more bombs went off. The Saudis were not deterred by the internal situation.
But then, about a month and a half ago, many of those reservations began being cancelled. First, it was the head of the household who cancelled his stay. But then the entire family reservation was cancelled. Given that many Saudi royals and notables rent entire floors of hotels, this was a significant hit.
So, why all the cancellations?
Allegedly, it's because of the succession to Malik Fahd.
The gossip I heard from one prince who is not really in the loop - but more in the Saudi loop than me - is that King Fahd is on life support. The plug can be pulled at any time.
Judging by Beirut hotel reservations, it seems like that time might be in mid-August.
Posted by tomscud at July 21, 2005 05:54 AM
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An interesting quote form the Monitor article:
On Monday, UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed Larsen recommended that Hizbullah be "molded into the Lebanese Army and thereby into the government apparatus."
I'm not sure how wise that recommendation is. The Lebanese Army shouldn't be a core force augmented by militias added in blocks. Ideally it should grow in a normal fashion, recruiting those who truly believe in a unified Lebanon, rather than becoming a patchwork of militias with conflicting loyalties, ready to break off or sabotage at the first sign of sectarian flare-up. Not to mention how ill-advised it seems to put a known terrorist militia under the wing of a national army, no matter how much they disperse its members among the units (if indeed they try to disperse them).
It is, unfortunately, not too surprising coming from the UN. The UN is usually concerned with decreasing violence only in the short term.
Posted by: zurn at July 21, 2005 02:28 PM
I'd dispute the label "terrorist militia" as applied to HB as a whole. The militia has been attacking military targets on Lebanese soil for at least the past two decades. I'm aware of the supposed links to the Argentina bombing, but the evidence is pretty tenuous.
There are, of course, a lot of other reasons to be worried about HB and about the impact on stability of an independent armed group within a sovereign state, etc. Unfortunately, HB still has a substantial political base, and is committed to at the very least not giving up its armed wing without some serious quid for their quo. The "integration into the army" trick is a face-saving compromise proposal that's been floating around for a while now and has been endorsed by a number of Lebanese politicians - I think Jumblatt brought it up at one point (of course, Jumblatt can be counted upon to take every possible stance on any given political issue at some time or another).
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 21, 2005 02:44 PM
What about rocket attacks on Israeli villages? I suppose they might have been trying to aim at military bases in those villages, and those villages may be full of soldiers anyways, but I'm not sure they care too much. Of course, I understand most of the HB is involved in more classic guerilla action, or simply protecting their own villages. And health care. There is also the matter of smuggling weapons to Palestinian terrorist groups, but that alone doesn't make them terrorists.
Unfortunately, given the fragility of Lebanese politics, and the lack of a strong central government, it might be a necessary compromise. Just not ideal. Maybe a better option is peaceful coexistence now, followed by aggressive disarmament in the future. That could keep the Lebanese Army more intact. It does leave a strong separate militia in the meantime though.
Posted by: zurn at July 21, 2005 10:10 PM
The rocket attacks tended to occur in a pretty clear context of tit-for-tat with Israeli attacks that hit (intentionally or no) civilian targets in Lebanon. I think the health care angle is overplayed and frankly a distraction - Hamas provides lots of health care, but I don't think it's wrong to identify them, or at least their armed wing, as a "terrorist organization". But there has been a decided difference in the behavior of Hizbollah on the one hand, and, say, many of the Palestinian groups, or many of the Iraqi insurgent groups on the other with respect to how they chose their targets. And since I'd sort of like to keep "terrorist" as a meaningful word (probably too late for that), I'm going to stick to that principle in evaluating Hezbollah.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at July 22, 2005 02:00 AM