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In May, Lebanon was plunged into a civil war of sorts as Hezbollah’s forces went on the offensive against the legitimate government. But regardless of whether the party can impose its will on the people, this month or next, very soon at any rate, a rare institution of huge importance to Lebanon will officially begin operating in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague. The United Nations and Lebanon are finalising preparations for a tribunal to indict those responsible for the 14 February 2005 assassination of the one-time Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Once this phase is completed, all that will be needed before the trial begins is a formal legal accusation, which should come by the end of this year.

It’s not often that political murders are punished in the Middle East. Hariri’s killing triggered what became known as Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution”, where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for three months demanding that Syria withdraw its army and intelligence agents from their country, after a 29-year presence. Syria’s regime is the only serious suspect in the crime — a fact recognised early on by UN investigators who have spent three years preparing a file on the Hariri case for the Leidschendam trial.

There seemed to be a neat finality to the Cedar Revolution when Syrian soldiers left Lebanon in April 2005. It was an illusion. Since then the Syrian president Bashar Assad has sought to reimpose hegemony here, in the hope that he can one day order his army back. Syria, with Iran, played a key role in the May coup attempt by Hezbollah and its allies. It is Syria, almost certainly, that has been behind dozens of bombings and assassinations in Lebanon and the slaying of several of its political foes. Damascus has also blocked a scheduled presidential election, imposing a potentially dangerous political vacuum.

Assad is sending two plain messages: nothing can be done in Lebanon without his priorities being considered. And more explicitly, Syria will not allow normality in the country until the tribunal issue is resolved to its satisfaction — meaning that some baroque deal is agreed, possibly along the lines of the Lockerbie arrangement with Libya, to spare the Assad regime blame for Hariri’s killing.

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Deen Sharp
June 4th, 2008
10:06 AM
Mr Young is wonderful one dimensional finger pointer.Young has suggested a normative political framework that approaches Iran and Syria through confrontation. A tragic symmetry exists between the approach of March 8 and March 14 vis-a-vis their respective enemy number 1: Israel and Syria. Both have applied the same policy of confrontation and the results have been political stalemate, death and destruction. Long live the collaborators!

June 1st, 2008
8:06 PM
"That is why the Hariri tribunal is so vital. It might not only make Arab regimes think twice before resorting to murder; it might also instil a modicum of moral fibre in their complaisant collaborators in the West." The first part of the conclusion seems possible, provided the tribunal gets the international coverage it deserves. As to the second part, I wouldn't advise waiting.

May 30th, 2008
3:05 PM
Like always a great and well thought piece by Michael Young. It is indeed unfortunate that some anti-war proponents in the West turn into anit-democrats in the East! It is not so complicated. Geroge Bush and Tony Blair belong to the same camp that include Bashar Assad and Ahmadi Najjad and Olmert. If you are against the formers in the West, you are ought to be against the latter in the East too, otherwise you are guilty of double-standards and hypocricy, to say the least.

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