Hezbollah "clumsy" in blaming Israel for Hariri assassination: analysts

08:27, August 10, 2010      

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Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah, on last Tuesday blamed Israel for the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. On Monday, Nasrallah is scheduled to hold a news conference to reveal the evidence for his accusation.

Both Israeli and Arab analysts believed that this appears to be a "clumsy" effort to deflect attention away from an upcoming United Nations report that is expected to state that members of Hezbollah's military wing carried out the Valentine's Day hit on Hariri.

Initially, the UN panel suggested that Syrian officials were behind the plot, while now it is thought that the inquiry will name the Hezbollah operatives when its findings are published in September.

Nasrallah's anticipated comments come a week after tensions were heightened between Israel and Lebanon with a cross-border shooting incident left four Lebanese and one Israeli dead.


Just hours following that clash Nasrallah appeared on Al-Manar, Hezbollah's own satellite TV channel, in part to lambaste Israel for what he claimed was its unprovoked attack against Lebanon. The next day, UN said the tree cut down by Israeli troops which caused the clash was on the Israeli side of the shared border, which favors Israel.

During his two-hour address on the TV, Nasrallah said he would speak again in the coming week to present evidence regarding the Hariri killing. Arabic media sources reported on Sunday that Nasrallah will claim this evidence points in Israel's direction.

"Whoever was behind this, it's very unlikely that we'll find out through a speech by Hassan Nasrallah," said Nadim Shehadi, an expert on Syria and Lebanon from the Chatham House institute in London.

For some three years, a UN investigation team has been working independently to try to discover who assassinated Hariri, and Shehadi does not believe that Nasrallah will be able to produce any new material that will in any way have been overlooked or failed to reach the investigators.

"This is a very clumsy diversion tactic on behalf of Nasrallah, " he said on Sunday.

It is a view shared by Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, just outside Tel Aviv.

"It's a very weak tactic if that's the best Nasrallah can do. He's in a bad shape because nobody is going to buy into that story, " said Steinberg.

"We've seen a lot of actions by Nasrallah in the last period of time that show him in an increasingly desperate situation that he seems to have peaked in his ability to have influence and that has created a certain amount of frustration and a little bit of lashing out," he added.

Shehadi is of the opinion that Nasrallah is extremely concerned about the likely findings of the UN panel and is trying to deflect attention away from it.

Some Israeli experts are suggesting that last week's cross- border shooting was orchestrated by Nasrallah to try to provoke Israel as part of his plan to minimize the impact of the upcoming UN report.


Shehadi does not buy into the claims of some Israelis that Hezbollah has major influence over the official Lebanese Army, but he does think that last week's incident suggests a toughening of Lebanon's stance towards Israel.

"It's the first time ever that the Lebanese Army has engaged with the Israeli army to protect its border," he said.

The shooting occurred just days after Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and Syrian President Bahsar al-Assad put aside some of their personal and national differences and visited Lebanon to promote stability in the state. Likewise, Qatari ruler Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani visited Lebanon a week ago.

Shehadi sees a growing tide of rapprochement within the Arab world, with the moderates losing some of their influence. In his opinion this change stems from the Gaza fighting of some 19 months ago and the subsequent failure of the Israelis to successfully persuade the Arab world that it is serious about the peace process.

"(As a result,) there is definitely a political shift in the whole state of Lebanon towards a confrontational position with Israel," said Shehadi.

The Lebanese firing on Israeli soldiers is likely a reflection of that movement, he suggests.


Whether that analysis is correct or not, it is clear to all that there is a sense of "nervousness," as Steinberg describes it, on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border.

That tension was thrown into sharp relief once again on Saturday when Israel fired warning shots in the direction of a Lebanese fishing vessel. The Israel Defense Forces said the boat wandered out of permitted fishing waters into a closed zone, believed to be near to the border.

Steinberg maintains that in the wake of last week's deadly incident "Israel's not going to take any chances and I think we'll see that for quite a long period of time," he said.

Israel will deal with any threat that comes from Lebanon " quickly" and "quite lethally," he continued.

While politicians and generals on both sides of the frontier have been making noises ever since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the determining factor ahead of any confrontation is the facts on the ground.

"The Lebanese shot at Israel for trimming a tree, so that means both sides will be observing the border by the inch," said Shehadi.

As a result, the United Nations force in southern Lebanon is having to be even more vigilant than normal to try to ensure that itchy fingers do not pull too easily on the triggers they touch.

By David Harris, Xinhua


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