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Hariri or Harakiri? Indictments Come at Key Moment for Hezbollah's Nasrallah

By Erich Follath

Part 2: An Embarrassment for Hezbollah

Photo Gallery: A Turning Point for Hezbollah? Photos
REUTERS

Hezbollah intelligence chief Badr al-Din, 50, is believed to be the organizer of the assassination. He is a member of Hezbollah's governing body, the Shura Council, and he was reportedly involved in terrorist attacks in South America against Jewish targets and in Kuwait, where he was arrested and sentenced to death. In the confusion surrounding the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, he managed to escape from prison and, with the help of the Iranian embassy in Kuwait, returned to Lebanon.

The suspected leader of the attack was Salim Ayash, 47, the head of a secret military "special unit for operatives" within Hezbollah. The two other suspects are not considered to be as important, and some in Beirut speculate that they may already have been liquidated "internally."

As strong as Tehran's support for Hezbollah is, there are currently considerable problems with financing. Contrary to Israel's consistent claims, militant Shiite Hezbollah does not have access to a constant flow of cash.

Finance Problems

In recent months, Hezbollah has become involved in disastrous investments, losing almost €1 billion ($1.4 billion). The Iranians, who are now feeling the brunt of the UN sanctions imposed as a result of their nuclear activities, have made it clear that they cannot provide Hezbollah with additional funding at this time. This is embarrassing for Hezbollah, whose image in Lebanon depends in large part on its generous social services. It is now falling behind in the rebuilding of homes it had promised to Hezbollah's Shiite followers after the destructive 2006 bomb attacks. Israel began massive bombing strikes in Lebanon that year after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Western intelligence agencies believe that they have identified a new Hezbollah income source: the drug trade. Iranian weapons shipments to the Lebanese were reportedly "enriched" with large quantities of heroin and cocaine. The drugs were then allegedly shipped to their final destination, Western Europe, through the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta. The Iranian representative of the Revolutionary Guard in Beirut, Hassan Mahdavi, allegedly mentioned, in a telephone conversation, a "drug tsunami" that could flush millions into Hezbollah's coffers.

Nasrallah is unlikely to approve of such activities. He has always fought the "drug scourge," even cooperating on the issue with the hated Hariri government in 2010. He is now trying to perform a balancing act that cannot possibly go well -- between being a statesman and a supporter of terrorists, and between opposing civil war and possibly profiting from one. He wants to be part of the democratic process, and yet he insists that he is above the law.

Hezbollah Emerges as Dominant Political Forces

After Nasrallah had managed to destroy former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's pro-Western alliance at the beginning of the year by convincing some of Hariri's supporters to defect to his camp, the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, 55, was finally able to present his new cabinet in mid-June. Mikati, a wealthy Sunni businessman, is considered a moderate and has also included representatives of Christian groups in his team. Nevertheless, Hezbollah dominates the cabinet.

For the first time the movement, whose militia is more powerful than the regular Lebanese army, has also established itself as the dominant political force. Although Hariri calls it a "coup," Hezbollah formally adhered to the democratic rules of engagement. Nasrallah, for his part, portrays himself as a peacemaker. He says that by no means does he intend to play off the Shiites, who make up an estimated 40 percent of the population, against the Sunnis or the Maronites. And he insists that Lebanon, with its fragile religious makeup, should be a unified, democratic country. But he also wants it to serve as a front line against "the Zionist enemy."

The Mikati government narrowly won a parliamentary confidence vote on Thursday. The prime minister promises to cooperate with the tribunal "in principle, provided it is not detrimental to our national interest." To be on the safe side, the government has already indicated that the Lebanese authorities have issued warrants for the arrest of thousands of people. Unfortunately, despite all official efforts, those individuals are not to be found.

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