Gwynne Dyer: Lebanon tribunal shows some conspiracies are real

Here we go again. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a United Nations-backed body investigating the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, has accused four people of his murder.

They all belong to Hizbollah, the militant Lebanese Shia movement that Israel and the United States define as terrorist. But they are probably not guilty.

Tribunals of this sort have no intelligence agents of their own. They rely heavily on information supplied to them by national intelligence services that they trust. But they don't seem to understand that there is no such thing as a trustworthy intelligence service.

Immediately after the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 other people in Beirut in 2005, Western and Israeli intelligence services said that the Syrian Government was behind it, and that the Iranians were behind them.

Well, of course. The main aim of the US and Israel at that time was to get Syrian troops out of Lebanon, where they had been stationed since shortly after the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975. Four Lebanese generals accused of working for Syria were arrested. The non-violent "Cedar Revolution" broke out, demanding an end to Syrian meddling in Lebanese politics and the withdrawal of Syrian troops. In the end the Syrians left, and a pro-Western government took power: mission accomplished.

But there was no evidence against the four Lebanese generals, and as one of its first acts the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, created in 2009, ordered their release. So who had organised the killing of Hariri, then? Well, accusing the Syrians had worked pretty well for the Western intelligence agencies. So maybe they decided to blame Hizbollah now and see if that worked, too.

Hizbollah came into existence in response to the long Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (1982-2000). It has the support of most of Lebanon's Shias, who dominate the south. And it gets arms and money not only from Syria but also from Syria's ally, Iran.

During the last Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, Hizbollah fought the Israeli army to a stand-still in southern Lebanon. But its leadership has always been intelligent and subtle, and the notion that it would let itself become a tool for some ham-fisted Syrian operation to kill the Lebanese Prime Minister seems simply unbelievable to most Lebanese.

The judges of the special tribunal were persuaded by evidence supplied by Western intelligence services that pointed them towards mobile-phone calls allegedly made by Hizbollah officials. So arrest warrants have now been issued for Mustafa Badreddin, Hizbollah's chief operations officer, and three other Hizbollah officials.

They probably had nothing to do with Hariri's assassination. It's more likely that they are being framed by Western intelligence agencies because Hizbollah is seen as a serious threat to Israel. If this sounds paranoid, consider the case of the Lockerbie bombing.

The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in 1988 killed 270 people, most of them American. At first US intelligence blamed Iran, claiming that it used an Arab terrorist group based in Syria to carry out the operation.

But then in 1990 Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait and Washington needed the Syrians as allies in the war to liberate it. Suddenly the Iran-Syria case was abandoned, and the new suspect was Libya. Libya under Muammar Gaddafi was an enemy of the West, so new evidence was found linking Libyan intelligence agents to the attack. One Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was tried by an international court and sentenced to life in prison. Alas, the new "evidence" was then gradually discredited as key "witnesses" turned out to be incredible.

One "witness", a Maltese shopkeeper called Tony Gauci, was later found living in Australia on millions of dollars that the US had paid him for his testimony. Another, Ulrich Lumpert, admitted that he had lied to the tribunal about supplying Libya with timers for the bomb. And so on.

In 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission announced that it would refer al-Megrahi's case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh (the Libyan was being held in a Scottish prison) because he "may have suffered a miscarriage of justice". To avoid all this coming out into the open, al-Megrahi was released in 2009 and sent home on the grounds that he was a dying man who wouldn't last three months. (He's still alive.)

If Western intelligence agencies played this kind of game over the Lockerbie bombing, what's to stop them from doing the same over the murder of Hariri? And why would they want to do that? Because Hizbollah and its allies now dominate the Lebanese Government, and are seen as a threat to Israeli and American interests.

The Middle East runs almost entirely on conspiracy theories, most of them implausible. But some of them are real.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

- NZ Herald

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