"Five years ago, on Feb. 14, 2005, a huge explosion destroyed the armoured car of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. In the aftermath, the United Nations appointed a special tribunal to investigate. The tribunal will soon announce its indictment, and it is widely expected that the indictment will name senior officials of Hezbollah as the organizers of the killing.
Hezbollah professes to fear that a public indictment would invite Sunni terrorist attacks on Shiite civilians. If this fear of Sunni retaliation were sincere, you would have to wonder why Hezbollah's own headquarters is so lightly guarded. Hezbollah holds overwhelming military supremacy in Lebanon; Sunni extremist groups have little power here.
But here's what could happen. An indictment in the Hariri case could mobilize Sunni Arabs outside Lebanon to demand a more effective international campaign against Hezbollah. Hezbollah has achieved something close to international legitimacy. It participates in the Lebanese government. It receives foreign ambassadors. The world looks away as it imports missiles from Iran.
All these achievements would be jeopardized if Hezbollah were formally condemned by an international organization for terror against fellow-Lebanese and fellow-Muslims. And jeopardized at a fragile moment.
Hezbollah serves now as an Iranian second-strike weapon against Israel. Should Israel ever feel compelled to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, Hezbollah could be unleashed against Israel. A restrained Hezbollah equals a more vulnerable Iran.
So Hezbollah now breathes menace against the tribunal. Hezbollah's friends — like Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan — are calling for the tribunal to go slow, keep its findings confidential. Meanwhile another suspect in the killing — the government of Syria — has regained international respectability. On the front page of Beirut's English-language Daily Star, there appeared Friday a big photo of Syrian leader Bashir Assad and his wife lunching with Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni in a gilt room in Paris. Nervous Lebanese politicians are searching for ways to appease Hezbollah: some kind of deal to quash the UN tribunal before its indictments released.
The hunt is on to substitute some more convenient killer: Sunni extremists? Rogue Palestinian groups? The Russian mafia, angry at some business deal gone bad? Or …wait a minute …how about … Israel?
Here is the English-language newspaper of the Iranian government, the Tehran Times, on Oct. 23, 2010 — about the time the tribunal was finishing its work: "The Hariri assassination: Israel's fingerprints surface."
Yes, that might work. It always does."