Six years after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon finally handed down indictments in his murder. The results were hardly surprising. Two of the four persons mentioned in the charges are senior members of the Hezbollah terrorist movement that has become the most powerful force in Lebanese politics.
Hezbollah’s role in the assassination of Hariri, a leader who was the leader of a movement to oust the Syrian forces that had occupied his country for over a generation, was not much of a secret. Ironically, by killing Hariri, the Syrians and Hezbollah overplayed their hand and wound up helping to mobilize a broad cross-section of Lebanese against them. What followed was the 2005 Cedar Revolution in which Syria was forced out of Lebanon, and the country had a brief moment when it actually looked like it was about to emerge as an independent democracy. But it didn’t last, and today Hezbollah, operating with the support of both Syria and Iran, dominates the country in a manner unimaginable even six years ago.
The question now is whether these indictments can, like the original murder, alter the balance of power in Lebanon. Hezbollah will do its best to ignore the indictments and to squelch any attempt by the national government to arrest Hariri’s murderers and live up to its international commitments to abide by the Tribunal’s rulings.
If they do not, and the indicted persons are not brought to justice, it will be up to the international community not to let the Hezbollah-dominated government get away with it. The West stood by helplessly as Hezbollah plunged Lebanon into a needless war with Israel in 2006. They did the same as the terror group was re-armed by Iran and then sent its militia into the streets to ensure that no government that stood against it would rule in Beirut. If Hezbollah is allowed to literally get away with murder this time, it will be a signal the West is still too afraid of these terrorists and their Iranian and Syrian allies to stand up for justice.
The stakes involved in this standoff are much bigger than just whether Lebanon remains in thrall to terrorists. In much the same way Washington has passed up the opportunity to take action about the Assad regime’s bloody attempts to squelch dissent in Syria, the Obama administration may think it is too preoccupied with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Libyan intervention to do anything about Lebanon. But if Obama fails to support the rule of law against Hezbollah, American prestige and influence in the Middle East will be further diminished.