Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bracing for Indictments in Lebanon

Interview with Michael Young , Council on Foreign Relations

The UN Special Tribunal on Lebanon is likely to soon send draft indictments to the pretrial judge on the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. For months, the government of Saad al-Hariri, Hariri's son, has been paralyzed by tensions over the tribunal's investigation and its legitimacy. Though they will not be confirmed for six to ten weeks, the results are expected to link Hezbollah and Syria with the assassination of Hariri. Michael Young, a Lebanon political analyst and author of The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle, says that the United States is trying to block efforts by Hezbollah, as well as by Syria and Saudi Arabia, to neutralize the tribunal's findings.

(…) The general consensus--and we have to see if it's fulfilled--is that within the coming weeks, the tribunal's prosecutor [Daniel Bellemare] will be presenting indictments to the pre-trial judge [Daniel Fransen]. The pre-trial judge will then probably take six to ten weeks to confirm those indictments. We will not know anything about the indictments until they're confirmed. But within that period, the pre-trial judge has the option of holding hearings with the members of the appeals chamber on certain aspects of the law. This would be done to expedite the process. During that period, we may begin to hear elements of the prosecutor's case, even if none of the indicted will be named. But the general expectation is that if draft indictments are presented in the coming week to two weeks, we will not have confirmed indictments probably until March or perhaps even April.

(…) What is happening is that Syria is allied with Iran and Hezbollah, but they are looking for openings in which they could, in a way, reassert more of their power in the country then they had in the last five years.

Hezbollah and its allies are basically trying to impose on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri--the son of the late Rafik Hariri--a series of measures that would, in a way, begin a process of casting doubt on the legitimacy of the tribunal in the Hague. Saad Hariri has until now been resistant to these measures. Now, the issue is being played out at a higher level between Saudi Arabia and Syria. Saudi Arabia is the main backer of Hariri, and Syria of course is an ally of Hezbollah.
We are in a political deadlock in Lebanon because what is effectively taking place is an effort to work out "a grand bargain" over the tribunal where Saad Hariri would be asked essentially to discredit the tribunal or take steps to discredit the tribunal officially in Lebanon. In exchange, Hezbollah is saying that if that happens there will be stability in Lebanon [and that] otherwise, there will be great instability. But this is a complex negotiating process and there are a number of states, including the United States, that will not accept any kind of compromise on the tribunal. We are effectively in a political deadlock, and I think this will last.

(…) Yes, the United States was afraid about the negotiations behind the scenes between the Syrians and Saudi Arabia. While it's not exactly clear what these negotiations will involve, there is a fear that the Saudis, in an effort to effectively bring the Syrians back politically to Lebanon--in such a way as to contain Iran--would possibly sign off on some kind of an arrangement with the Syrians that would lead to Lebanon's discrediting the tribunal. The United States believes that this Syrian-Saudi arrangement would undermine the tribunal, and Clinton sought to make it very clear to Hariri--but also and more importantly to Hariri's Saudi sponsors--that the United States would not accept such an arrangement.

How is all this received in Lebanon? - There is tremendous malaise politically in Lebanon, because the situation surrounding the tribunal has effectively frozen all other aspects of political life. The cabinet is not meeting because Hezbollah and its allies refuse to attend cabinet sessions unless the cabinet takes certain measures that will lead to the discrediting of the tribunal. So, effectively, politics are frozen here, and as far as most Lebanese are concerned, this issue is not going anywhere. They feel their daily life is not getting any better. The economic situation is not particularly good. People believe their country is being ignored and is being held hostage to the tribunal.

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