Spiegel article Probably a Plant

The Der Spiegel article is suspicious for many reasons. Here are a few put forward by SC readers:

1. The timing suggests that the story was released to provide maximum damage to Hizbullah’s and Aoun’s likely success in the elections.

2. The most recent UN investigative teams (in contradistinction to Mehlis) have been excellent at not politicizing or leaking evidence from the case.

3. Nasrallah has no record of assassinating Lebanese political figures that stand in his way.

4. The accusations against Syria in 2005 and 2006 turned out to be based on false witness, why should we trust this bombshell?

5. There are accusations that Der Spiegel and Israeli intelligence are in close cahoots. 

6. Ehsani notes that the article claims that investigation reached surprising “new” conclusions a month ago. 

Are we to believe that the court was set up on march 1, 2009 without a formal and concrete case at the time, and that somehow this case took a new turn very recently?

7. Alex writes: This article is the ultimate manifestation of the on-going politicization of the Hariri tribunal.

All the evidence in this article is twisted, starting with the 8 cell phones, which for your information, belonged to a Sunni group in Trablus, not to any one in Hizbullah. And this is a confirmed fact even during the Mehlis phase of the investigation

8. T.desco alerts us to the similarities between the Spiegel article and the Le Figaro article of 2006.

I think you should also post the Figaro article, because it’s more fun:

Der Spiegel 2009:

“The pace of the investigation stalled under Mehlis’s Belgian successor, Serge Brammertz. (…)

But now there are signs that the investigation has yielded new and explosive results. (…)

Tribunal chief Bellemare and his fellow judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month.” (!) (my emphasis)

Le Figaro 2006:

“LES ENQUÊTEURS libanais, en charge de l’assassinat de Rafic Hariri, travaillent depuis quelques mois sur une nouvelle piste, qui conduit au Hezbollah. «L’enquête internationale dirigée par le juge Serge Brammertz s’oriente également dans cette direction», confirme, au Figaro, un proche de Saad Hariri (…).” (my emphasis)

Der Spiegel 2009:

“Damascus’s view of the situation could be more mixed. Although the Syrian government is not being declared free of the suspicion of involvement, at least President Assad is no longer in the line of fire.”

Le Figaro 2006:

“Elle ne modifie pas l’orientation générale de l’enquête : la Syrie reste pointée du doigt. «Les Syriens ont cloisonné l’opération, en confiant à leurs différents alliés au Liban le soin de préparer cet attentat, sans que l’un sache ce que l’autre avait à faire», estime un spécialiste des questions de sécurité.”

Ehsani Writes:

The story goes out of its way to highlight the fact that “although the Syrian government is not being declared free of the suspicion of involvement, at least President Assad is no longer in the line of fire. There is hardly anything to indicate he was aware of the murder plot”.

Presumably, the release of the four Lebanese Security Chiefs has put to rest the theory that Damascus was to blame.

With Syria out of the picture, the story goes on to shift the blame to Iran and HA. Here are the key parts:

“SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn.”

Is it the source that examined the internal documents or is it spiegel that examined these documents. If it is the latter, was the source able to take these documents outside the tight security building? Surely, the investigation should be able to track this so-called source?

The article claims too much knowledge: “He is believed to be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, from the town of Rumin, a Hezbollah member who had completed training course in Iran. Ghamlush was also identified as the buyer of the mobile phones. He has since disappeared, and perhaps is no longer alive.”

How did they know that he completed training in Iran? Did they see him board a flight to Tehran and followed his bus ride to a training camp?

“Salim has largely assumed the duties of his notorious predecessor, with Mughniyah’s brother-in-law, Mustafa Badr al-Din, serving as his deputy. The two men report only to their superior, and to General Kassim Sulaimani, their contact in Tehran.”

How did the investigators identify General Kassim Sulaimani in Iran? Did he have a caller ID? Was this general dialing in from his Tehran office into salim’s cell phone? Also, how does the reporter know the secret chain of command at the top ranks of Hizbullah?

Comments (52)

Amir in Tel Aviv said:

The rush of SC to defend HZB is no surprise to me.
But I agree. Syria did it. (President knew).

May 23rd, 2009, 8:22 pm


Jihad said:

From the Der Spiegel piece of rubbish:

“Hariri’s growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity. Besides, he stood for everything the fanatical and spartan Hezbollah leader hated: close ties to the West and a prominent position among moderate Arab heads of state, an opulent lifestyle, and membership in the competing Sunni faith. Hariri was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah”.

Yes, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah envied Rafiq Hariri’s relations with the plucky little “kings” in the Gulf and his “opulent lifestyle” that included showering gifts on former French president Jacques Chirac, his wife and his mentally ill dog! That’s why Sayyed Nasrallah decided to kill Hariri in 2005.

Many newspapers in the West are in cahoot with the Mossad: Times of London, Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro, etc.

May 23rd, 2009, 9:04 pm


Nour said:

Actually Amir, “Israel” did it. Everyone in the terrorist government knew.

May 23rd, 2009, 9:12 pm


t.desce said:

Follath claims:

“In a speech in Beirut, Nasrallah spoke of the tribunal’s “conspiratorial intentions.””

It’s worth reading the speech in full. Here is what he actually said about the UN tribunal:

Sayyed Nasrallah: Martyr Hariri’s Case and STL Must be Reviewed

Hezbollah Secretary General stressed in a televised speech on Al-Manar TV that “we should make a new review of the assassination case of former Prime Minister martyr Rafik Hariri and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.”

“I would like to congratulate the four Generals and their families on their release and return to freedom. We are talking about the most dangerous period in Lebanon’s modern history. We have to make a new review of the assassination case of martyr Rafiq Hariri and the Tribunal so as to serve this cause. After the assassination of martyr Hariri in 2005, the Lebanese reached consensus on condemning the crime, knowing the truth and launching a serious unremitting investigation to uncover the truth and punish the culprits. If we had managed to preserve this consensus, we would have done this cause a great favor. However, the Lebanese differed on the political accusation. A political party in Lebanon had rushed since the first moments after the assassination to accuse Syria and its allies and the then Lebanese authority. They Judged, convicted and punished and then asked the kind Lebanese people to vote for them in elections to punish Hariri’s killers. They founded all of their political project and relations on this accusation that could have led to civil war in Lebanon, even a regional war. This was prevented when Syrian President Bachar Assad decided to pull out Syrian forces from Lebanon. Hence, we have to consider all assumptions that point to sides that might be behind the assassination, because political accusations might lead the country to undesired consequences.”

“We had urged waiting for the outcome of the investigation and if Syria were to be found involved in the assassination we would have stood by the other political bloc. We called for a Lebanese investigation, but those who defend the judiciary today, deemed the judicial system incapable and politicized. We called for a joint Lebanese-Saudi investigation, but Saudi Arabia refused. We called for an Arab investigation, but the Arabs refused. Then they called for an international investigation. At first we had some reservations, but we later agreed out of respect to the other political bloc and the family of martyr Hariri. We waited to see what the basis on which the investigation committee would build its case on would be, it turned out to be the testimonies of Mohamad Zuheir Siddiq. He turned out to be a liar and a false witness. The first investigation commission under Detlev Mehlis ordered the detention of the four generals, and although we found this strange, we accepted it and waited for the investigation’s results. If the probing committee had done its job away from politicization and away from the countries that backed the March 14 bloc, it would have certainly ordered the release of the four officers the minute it learned that the witness was a liar, not after four years.”

“Mehlis and whoever came after him should have released the four officers. They should not have kept them in custody without investigation or charges especially when the false witnesses were exposed. However, the generals were not released because, for political calculations, it was too early and their release would have lead to major consequences. They were politically detained and there was someone covering this detention. When the officers were in detention, March 14 leaders used to say that the investigation committee had decided to detain the Generals. This needs to be scrutinized. Today, the decision by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to release the officers is a definite proof that the investigation committee had been politicized, unjust and did not conform with international standards. This is proof that the judicial course was wrong and the detention was political.”

“There are three (Daniel) Bellemars: The first is the head of the investigation committee who is an accomplice in the unjust treatment of the officers; the second Bellemar is the one who did not mind releasing the officers; the third Bellemar is the one who we still do not know who will he be, the first or the second Bellemar.

How will the international investigators act in the next stage and what paths will they choose? Will they make the same mistakes? Will they press charges against anyone new based on false testimonies, or will they scrutinize testimonies in a scientific way? Those who misled the investigation for four years can mislead it for a hundred years. Our information confirms that the door is still open for false witnesses, therefore we have the right to pose these questions. Judge Fransine’s decision has ended a dark period. We will not pre-judge the next stage, yet international officers must and can establish integrity or otherwise.”

“My sincere advice to the family of martyr Hariri and to all the Lebanese people is to make a review to the case and cooperate to uncover the truth. We must not lose time as we did before and adhere to the national consensus that developed after the assassination. We should start by holding the false witnesses and whoever is behind them accountable. If the STL reckons it is not concerned in this matter, we – as Lebanese – must demand that the Lebanese justice system punish them so as not to open another door for new false witnesses. Let us insist on a professional investigation to reach the truth. The Lebanese judiciary must not settle for the international court. Let us put political accusations aside – this accusation that nearly set the country and the region on fire – and to consider all possibilities, including the possibility of Israel being behind the assassination. Israel is capable of committing this crime. It has the motive, and it could have killed martyr Hariri, because it wanted a civil war in Lebanon in which Hezbollah and the Resistance would be a party in, so as to avenge its defeat in 2000 and its humiliating withdrawal from the South. Israel even wanted a regional war to pave the way for US armies to enter Lebanon and Syria and killing Hariri was their gateway. Several Israeli intelligence networks were dismantled in the last few weeks. But it the Information Branch had operated this way four years ago, maybe we would have reached something in the case of martyr Hariri. For instance, Mahmoud Rafea, who admitted being a Mossad agent, also admitted receiving sacs of explosives. He hid them in certain locations in Mount Lebanon. Why wasn’t it allowed to ask – during the past four years – about these explosives and where have they disappeared? Can’t Israel deliver two tons of explosives to Lebanon to assassinate Rafiq Hariri?”
“I respect the conflicting sentiments which the Lebanese experienced last Wednesday (when the officers were released). It was a must to celebrate the release and to congratulate their families because they were severely harmed. It is not true that their release will have an effect on elections because political affiliations are determined. Those with the opposition will vote for the opposition and those with March 14 will vote for March 14 and the swing voters who could be affected by certain events are few. Let us straighten the path of the investigation and not waste another four years, because maybe then, we will reach the truth that will bring Lebanon some good.”

May 23rd, 2009, 9:27 pm


ehsani2 said:

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor just said :

“We don’t know where they are getting the story from. The office of the prosecutor doesn’t comment on any issues related to operational aspects of the investigation”.

May 23rd, 2009, 9:31 pm


t.desce said:

Very interesting in this context:

‘Hezbollah concerned about Nasrallah safety’
Sat, 23 May 2009

Hezbollah leaders feel that Nasrallah is more than ever at risk of being assassinated by Israel, fearing that Tel Aviv has a well-calculated plan in place to kill the popular leader, the leading Lebanese daily Safir wrote.

According to the daily, Hezbollah officials have a clear image of the Israeli scenario. However, the recent anti-espionage crackdown in Lebanon has partially foiled the plot.

The officials, the daily wrote, believe that the Israelis have no way but resorting to “a gradual assassination” plot based on which they change the political climate both inside and outside Lebanon against Nasrallah and wait for the right moment to assassinate him.

The report added the Nasrallah assassination tops Israel’s agenda while Tel Aviv is satisfied with the pressure exerted by some Arab nations against Hezbollah after the 2006 summer war.

The daily says Israeli spy agencies have been trying to portray Hezbollah as a puppet of Iran and termed Hezbollah members as ‘Persian Shias’ to fuel anti-Hezbollah sentiments in the region.

Those Arab countries which view Hezbollah’s activities against their interests are assisting Israel with its plot, citing Egypt’s recent crackdown against the movement as one of the examples of such moves, the daily reported.
Press TV

(my emphasis)

May 23rd, 2009, 9:57 pm


norman said:

They used the Hariri killing to push Syria out of Lebanon with false accusation and witnesses , They are trying to do the same to Hezbollah and Aoun , hoping that they rally the people and win the election for Saad Hariri,

I just hope that the opposition will win and have Hezbollah build a good defence strategy and Aoun clean Lebanon from the corrupt people who led Lebanon into 40 billion Dollars debt giving their companies contracts in the name of rebuilding Lebanon.

And that is my take ,

May 24th, 2009, 12:32 am


Chris said:


Thanks for returning. We had a little discussion on SC earlier regarding maps. Your return gave me the opportunity to glance back at your website. Apparently Syria includes far more than the Golan Heights. I see from the map on your blog that “…the Syrian Nation, which includes today’s Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Cyprus” is far larger than I knew.

Will you be writing to the Syrian embassy in your country to get them to adjust (or completely redraw) their maps?

May 24th, 2009, 1:06 am


ghassan said:

Syria should have left years ago! Syria knows that (Bashar admitted that their presence in Lebanon was too long!)
Regarding the 40 Billions, at least 20 Billions were stolen by the Syrian occupiers and the rest because HA people don’t pay for water or electricity!

May 24th, 2009, 1:38 am


jad said:

I like some people’s comments when it comes to understanding the Middle East and greater Syria history; they come with the most laughable comments about issues they really and truly know nothing about.
First, there is no reason whatsoever to support the false map of Israel that even your government doesn’t recognize.
Second, supporting Israel on every mistake it does is actually harming its existence more than securing its future, ask Shai and Rumyal.
Third, as an American citizen your roll should be supporting the right doing and bring justice instead of taking sides when there is no need for that.
last and not list, I thought colleges in NY State supposed to be better than the fake ones on the internet; I guess I was wrong because those comments show how bad those Colleges are. I wonder how much you purchase your degree for. 2cents?

May 24th, 2009, 2:46 am


jad said:

I totally agree with you on the first part of your comment, Syria should’ve left Lebanon the same time Israel did and that is the biggest mistake Syrian did.
Regarding your second part, isma7li, that is not true because there is no way that water and electricity of HA (which you mean the Lebanese Shia) would’ve cost Hariri government $20B in debt, also, the corrupted Syrians who took the other $20B, according to you, weren’t alone, your lovely Lebanese politicians and Wales (during Hariri Gov.) are as corrupted as them, they are not Swiss nationals.
If the $40B were all gone between the Syrians and the Shia what did you use to build Centre Ville with, seawater?

May 24th, 2009, 3:01 am


t.desce said:


you say that my argument that the author of the article wrote a whole book about secret Mossad operations and that therefore the source of the article could be Mossad, that this argument is “way below the belt”.

Do you really think that it is possible to write a whole book about “secret Mossad operations” without… gasp… having contact to actual Mossad sources?

These contacts go both ways. A journalist may prove useful in the future, say, if you want to plant a story in the media.

Or do you want to suggest that intelligence services do not from time to time feed stories to our press?

As Ehsani has pointed out, there are details in the article that only intelligence services would know, like which Iranian general is the liaison with Hizbullah and who underwent training in Iran.

BTW, I will have to confirm this – ugh – but this stylistic detail reminds me of DEBKA. Or was it Al-Seyassah…? It’s sometimes hard to differenciate.

But you are right, the usual “Al-Seyassah” dumping ground for such “intelligently” sourced articles is Die Welt.

May 24th, 2009, 6:20 am


kingcrane jr said:


I have heard that Ziyad Homsi, as an anti-Israeli Resistant of the Nasserian brand, tried to contact Hasan Nasrallah so to meet him. Now that we know that he is a spy of the Zionist usurping entity, it all makes sense. The Hezbollah leaders were and continue to be very secretive because of the ease the Mossad has infiltrated most movements, including a majority of the Nasserian movements.

This reminds of my days in Lebanon in the early eighties; a friend of mine in West Beirut (we would exchange information daily; I lived in East Beirut) kept track of “middle management” men in various Nasserian and Palestinian groups, and found out that there was a significant proportion of turncoats, traitors, and agents.

As to the Hezbollah, many Lebanese were upset at the fashion they kept away other groups from playing a synergistic role in the resistance, even eliminating some. Ultimately, a few groups were deemed acceptable, but only “from a distance” meaning no access to the top circles of the Hezb. It is mostly the SSNP that benefited of the Hezb’s acceptance, and it is worth mentioning that Hasan Nasrallah’s own father was a member of the SSNP.

As to the recent fears about Nasrallah’s safety, I believe that the spy rings uncovered in Lebanon, and the fact that Ziyad Homsi was able to ask an intermediary to meet Nasrallah at a time he had already travelled to Thailand to meet his “handler” is a very sobering fact for the hezbollah security apparatus.

May 24th, 2009, 7:09 am


kingcrane jr said:


Please do not answer the trolls on this site.

Looking at your map, it is obvious that you are a supporter of the SSNP. When I was growing up, I met quite a few SSNP supporters, and some are my friends, though I am politically unattached, and (from this standpoint) I plan to stay celibate for the rest of my life.

But the e-mail sent to you reminds me of a conference in Paris whereby two men, a Lebanese SSNP supporter and a French Zionist proxy were arguing about maps; the SSNP man was very well prepared and pulled all kinds of documents about Zionist expansionism. The SSNP supporter even produced one of the Zionist “from the Nile to the Euphrates” maps at the conference, winning the day for the good guys.

May 24th, 2009, 7:24 am


Gullgamish said:

No court or investigative body has the trust of all factions in Lebanon. Inevitably therefore, accusations by one against another will continue, similar to accusing one party to work for a foreign country/entity, with no conviction possible.

May 24th, 2009, 10:32 am


t.desce said:

I thought that I should immediately share this important news with you:

Avigdor Lieberman calls for an international arrest warrant against Hassan Nasrallah.

Israel minister calls for arrest

JERUSALEM – ISRAEL on Sunday called for an international arrest warrant against Hassan Nasrallah after a German magazine linked his Hezbollah group to former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri’s murder.

‘The report in Der Spiegel on Nasrallah’s direct involvement in the assassination of Hariri should raise concern in the entire international community,’ Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told reporters in Jerusalem.

‘He should have an international arrest warrant issued against him, and if not, he should be arrested by force,’ he said. (…)


May 24th, 2009, 11:28 am


offended said:

I suspect Der Spiegel has a ‘deep throat’ source of some sort inside in the investigative team. Nothing’s wrong, whatever float their boat.

May 24th, 2009, 1:51 pm


t.desce said:

There can be absolutely no doubt that we are talking about one and the same story here (and Malbrunot even reveals the original source!):

Figaro 2006:

“Tout commence par l’identification par les Forces de sécurité intérieure (FSI) d’un groupe de téléphones portables, qui n’a été utilisé qu’avant et juste après le crime.”

Spiegel 2009:

“In months of painstaking work, a secretly operating special unit of the Lebanese security forces (…) filtered out the numbers of mobile phones that could be pinpointed to the area surrounding Hariri on the days leading up to the attack and on the date of the murder itself. ”

Figaro 2006:

“«Leurs propriétaires, une dizaine au maximum, ont cessé de s’en servir, après avoir reçu d’ultimes consignes pour échapper à la traque lancée après la mort de Hariri», affirme une source proche des FSI à Beyrouth. Mais l’un d’eux a commis une erreur, en appelant un de ses amis, qui ne faisait pas partie du réseau de complices.”

Spiegel 2009:

“Captain Eid’s team eventually identified eight mobile phones, all of which had been purchased on the same day in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. They were activated six weeks before the assassination, and they were used exclusively for communication among their users and — with the exception of one case — were no longer used after the attack. They were apparently tools of the hit team that carried out the terrorist attack.”

Figaro 2006:

“Grâce aux relevés téléphoniques, les policiers ont enregistré le numéro de cet ami, puis l’ont interrogé. Celui-ci leur a livré le nom de son correspondant. (…)
Selon le proche de Saad Hariri, il s’agit d’un Libanais, évoluant dans la mouvance du Hezbollah et de ses services de renseignement.”

Spiegel 2009:

“The romantic attachment of one of the terrorists led the cyber-detectives directly to one of the main suspects. He committed the unbelievable indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the “hot” phones. It only happened once, but it was enough to identify the man. He is believed to be Abd al-Majid Ghamlush, (…) a Hezbollah member who had completed training course in Iran.”

Figaro 2006:

“L’individu, depuis, est introuvable. Il serait en fuite, vraisemblablement en Syrie, sa famille au Liban ayant reçu un appel depuis Damas.”

Spiegel 2009:

“He has since disappeared, and perhaps is no longer alive.”

Surprisingly, even the speculation about the motive is very similar:

Figaro 2006:

“Même si les relations entre Hariri et le Hezbollah n’ont jamais été solides, quel aurait pu être l’intérêt du mouvement chiite de participer à son élimination ? «De par sa stature, Hariri, le richissime leader sunnite, gênait les visées du Hezbollah au Liban et plus largement de l’Iran qui cherche à renforcer l’influence de ses alliés chiites dans le monde arabe», estime le proche de Saad Hariri.

Spiegel 2009:

“This leaves the question of motive unanswered. (…) Why should Hezbollah — or its backers in Iran — be responsible?

Hariri’s growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity. Besides, he stood for everything the fanatical and spartan Hezbollah leader hated: close ties to the West and a prominent position among moderate Arab heads of state, an opulent lifestyle, and membership in the competing Sunni faith.”

I’d like to point out that both articles directly contradict the first Mehlis report.

Figaro 2006:

“«Leurs propriétaires, une dizaine au maximum, ont cessé de s’en servir,(…) après la mort de Hariri», affirme une source proche des FSI à Beyrouth. Mais l’un d’eux a commis une erreur, en appelant un de ses amis, qui ne faisait pas partie du réseau de complices.”

Spiegel 2009:

“They were activated six weeks before the assassination, and they were used exclusively for communication among their users and — with the exception of one case — were no longer used after the attack. (…)
He committed the unbelievable indiscretion of calling his girlfriend from one of the “hot” phones. It only happened once, but it was enough to identify the man.”

Mehlis I, 2005:

“Use of Prepaid Telephone Cards

144. Investigations by both the ISF and Military Intelligence have led to six pre-paid calling cards, which telephone records demonstrate were instrumental in the planning of
the assassination. (…)

145. Further investigation has revealed that these six lines — along with two others — were put into circulation on the 4 January 2005, after calling number 1456 activated them. (…) Since they were first purchased in early January 2005, until the time of the explosion, the lines only had calls with each other.”

(my emphasis)

If we are indeed talking about one and the same story here, it would necessarily follow that the Spiegel article contains falsehoods, notably:

Spiegel 2009:

“The pace of the investigation stalled under Mehlis’s Belgian successor, Serge Brammertz. (…)
But now there are signs that the investigation has yielded new and explosive results. (…)
Tribunal chief Bellemare and his fellow judges apparently want to hold back this information, of which they been aware for about a month.” (!)

Other details of the story also seem odd. For example, as I already observed in August 2006: Isn’t it a bit odd that the ami or amie was able to identify the caller? The interrogation must have taken place months after the call was made. Imagine somebody asking you, “who called you on January 14 2005 at 16:25 hours from this particular number?”. Unless you have a memory like Garry Kasparov (he remembers every number he ever dialed in his life) you will probably be unable to answer the question. And yet, the alleged testimony of the “friend” is the only evidence they have against the suspect.

May 24th, 2009, 2:02 pm


Deutsch said:

As a German, it is hard to BELIEVE that DER SPIEGEL produces a story which is planted. The journal has a very good track-record within the field of investigative journalism. It is not comparable to unknown newspapers in the Gulf which are sponsored by obscure entities. The very same Spiegel author was recently critized for being too anti-Israel.

The coverage of the last Gaza conflict within the Spiegel was definitely not pro-Israel. If the story is false the journal Spiegel would loose a lot of credibility. And it would loose a lot of opportunities to interview with anti-western politicians in the Middle East, as it had in the past. We have to wait until the tribunal in The Hague has settled the case, before we can judge the story.

May 24th, 2009, 2:33 pm


Question Marks said:

Norman (#9 above),

We all (Lebanese an Syrians at least) have come to realise how harmful to both countries’ interests the extended stay of the Syrian army in Lebanese territory had been. Hence, there is no real benefit in debating it any longer, at least it is the single issue that all, Lebanese from all walks of political life and Syrians) can agree upon.

My issue is the national debt, be it $40bn of $50bn, simply because it is about the future of our children and grandchildren who are going to be lumbered with so much financial responsibility.

Yes, the debt accumulated, at least until 4 years ago, while under the auspices of the Syrian status-quo. No doubt about that, correct! Who was/were the Lebanese partner sharing the spoils of the ‘occupation’ as some would like to classify the Syrian presence? Well, I will hazard a guess: it is every single personality, with no exception whatsoever, that is today a member of March 14th gathering; plus some who belong to the former opposition. I think it is noteworthy that since 1992 the Syrian presence in Lebanon was granted legitimacy by no less the late Hariri. This remained to be the case until his untimely assassination. We heard here and there about some disagreements between Hariri and the Syrians. However, the former did not see a problem in voting for extending President Lahoud’s term.

T. Desce (#12),

If I understood you between-the-lines correctly, you are all for a journalist to forge contacts in order that he/she carries out his/her mandate properly and professionally. That is very true, but is only valid if a journalist follows the next tenet of the profession and that is to sift through the ‘tips’ he/she gets and try to verify it using other sources 9I figure at least three for such an important and potentially explosive issue as Hariri’s assassination). Otherwise the journalist becomes, at best, a mere scribe repeating what others want him/her to say, and at worst an outright agent. Notice no mention here of objectivity, balance, need to avoid incitement and all the other principles that Western media is supposed to pride itself on.

I maintain that this article will not change much where it intended to effect change i.e. Lebanon days away from national elections. The Article does however, prod us to scrutinise even more closely what is printed/published by a lsit of media that include … well, we all know the titles stretching from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait by way of Dubai Media City all the way to old, poor Beirut.


May 24th, 2009, 4:12 pm


t.desce said:


the Spiegel is generally pro-Israel (as are most German media, probably a healthy thing given the terrible history), but not totally uncritical (and “anti-Israel” only by AIM standards; e.g. the person you quote criticizes Follath for describing Avigdor Lieberman as “racist”).

Nobody here has suggested (I think) that the Spiegel knowingly published a planted story, but the timing of the story is a strong indicator that it is indeed planted.

May 24th, 2009, 10:17 pm


why-discuss said:


The NY times published numerous “investigative” stories written by Miller on the stock of nuclear weapons in Iraq. They mislead many newspapers who quotes a ‘serious’ newspaper. They turned out to be false and planted by Miller helped (or paid) by AIPAC or pro-Israel lobbies.
Der Spiegel may have fallen into the same scoop trap. Israel immediately reacted rather stupidly by asking that Nasrallah should be arrested based on Der Spiegel allegations. Sounds very much like a reaction to the humiliation of the dismantling of the Israelis spy network in Lebanon hardly mentionned by Der Spiegel or any other foreign newspaper.

May 25th, 2009, 4:04 am


Shami said:

Patriarch Hazim is the patriarch of All Syrians and behond,Jad.
The antiochian greek orthodox church took a wise stance ,to stay away of politic in this Syria.
The mufti of Syria is a total disgrace.

May 25th, 2009, 5:32 am


kingcrane jr said:

I beg to disagree:
-There are two Antiochian Patriarchs. Hazim, from Mharrdeh in Wadi-al-Nasarah, for those in communion with Orthodox Churches, and Lahham, from Damascus, for those in communion with Catholic Churches.
-Neither Patriarch does much in politics, and this is usually a tradition. But Hazim has a Bishop in Beirut who is pro-March 14. On the other side, Lahham has several Bishops who are overall on the opposing side; one example is Capucci when he was in Jerusalem; he helped some Palestinian groups and was extradited by the Zionists; he went back to his native Aleppo.
-On the Sunni side, I do not know much about Hassoun, but I am more qualified about Lebanon, and I can assure you that the Mufti in Lebanon is a Hariri nominee who calls frequently for sectarian warfare as if we did not learn from Iraq. HE IS A DISGRACE.

May 25th, 2009, 7:58 am


Shami said:

King,this is your opinion and it’s according your political stance.
There are also other antiochian patriarchs than Lahham and Hazim ,those of the maronite church and the 2 syriac Patriarchs of the orthodox and catholic rites.
And i dont think that Hilarion Capucci the Aleppine is pro opposition,he was the friend of Arafat,neither Patriarch Lahham is ,i believe.(did he meet Aoun during his visit to Syria ?)
As for Mutran Audeh i like him .

May 25th, 2009, 8:42 am


Chris said:

Planted stories, of course! Nothing could be taken at face value. We must find some conspiracy. We must find some zionist sympathizer who is behind all of this.

Come on comrades. Resist your impulse to defend Hezbollah for one moment. Perhaps, the story came out now because the level of interest in Lebanon at the moment. Perhaps, the elections rekindled the author’s interest in doing an article on Lebanon and so he did some research and conducted some interview, which led to this article. Who knows, but the seemingly uniform fashion in which the commenters have reached for conspiracy theories rather than considered the veracity of the story is surprising, even given my knowledge of the often bathist nature of these comments.


*The Daily Star*

Monday, May 25, 2009
Why Syria fuels the Iraqi insurgency
By Raymond Tanter
Commentary by

In May 2008, Iraqi and Coalition forces attacked Syrian-based Al-Qaeda in Iraq cells in and around Mosul. Despite a mid-2007 drop in the number of foreign fighters transiting from Syria into Iraq, the flow of Al-Qaeda fighters has increased during the first months of 2009. Insurgents have been transiting through Syria into Iraq since the launch of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. As US forces raced toward Baghdad during March and April of that year, Syrian security personnel waved buses of foreign volunteers across the border into neighboring Iraq to fight the Americans. At the same time, Iraqi Baathists still loyal to Saddam’s regime fled in the opposite direction, finding safe haven in sparsely populated parts of eastern Syria. There, they established the New Regional Command, a headquarters from which to raise funds, procure weapons, and train personnel for the insurgency in Iraq. The base was critical because it ensured they would be free from harassment by US forces.

For two years, Syrian security personnel facilitated the activities of foreign jihadists and Saddam loyalists with the implicit approval of Damascus. The regime had two major incentives in doing so.

First, in the same way that Saudi Arabia disposed of its most fervent jihadists by sending them to Afghanistan during the 1980s to fight and die against the Soviet Union, Iraq was a fortuitous outlet for Syria’s own Islamist opposition, based mainly in and around Aleppo, in the country’s northwest corner. The strategy was, at best, a short-term success. Syria will now be forced to contend with battle-hardened jihadists returning from Iraq. Saudi Arabia experienced a similar “blowback” when it struggled to “digest” returning Saudis from the Afghanistan war.

Second, Syria had a strategic interest in tying down US forces in Iraq and preventing the rise of a stable Iraqi government allied with the United States. Despite the significant animosity that existed between Damascus and Saddam’s Iraq, the regime in Damascus determined that chaos in Iraq was preferable to the rise of a stable US ally to Syria’s east.

Improvements in Iraqi security since 2007 are the result of developments on the Iraqi side of the Syrian border, including the US troop surge, a new counterinsurgency strategy, and Sunni Iraqi disgust with Al-Qaeda. This led to the formation of the “Awakening Councils” through which tribal leaders cooperated with the US-led multinational force in Iraq. Iranian dissidents in Iraq also acted as mediators between Iraqi Sunni chiefs and the Coalition forces to help stabilize the country.

Contrary to Syrian claims, the stability in Iraq has very little to do with the cooperation Damascus has offered (as minimal as that happens to be). Indeed, the regime has tolerated the continued presence of jihadists and insurgents. Coupled with Iran’s sheltering of radical Shiite groups, such as that of Moqtada al-Sadr, jihadists and insurgents in Syria constitute a sword of Damocles hanging over the government of Iraq.

Looking forward, President Barack Obama will need a multi-pronged strategy of focusing on Iraqi security, occasional covert operations across the border against high-value targets in Syria, and outreach to Damascus. However, expectations should be tempered. Even at the height of US leverage in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, Syria was unwilling to undertake serious efforts to curtail the activities of jihadists and insurgents on its soil.

Ultimately, the Iraqi government may eventually have more influence over Damascus, given Syria’s desire to expand economic relations between the two countries. When Iraqi President Jalal Talabani made his first official visit to Damascus in January 2007, topping Syria’s agenda was the signing of agreements related to economy and oil, which Damascus believed should precede agreements on security issues. Syria also seeks relief from the economic stress of its Iraqi refugees. According to December 2006 statistics from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are between 600,000 and 1 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. Iraq has a unique opportunity to ensure that its security demands are met before moving forward with Syria on those issues that are critical to the Syrian economy.

What may ultimately doom the jihadist and Baathist operatives in Syria is the domestic headache they give Damascus. Just as Saudi Arabia suffered the blowback effects of jihadists returning from Afghanistan in the 1980s, a new generation of foreign fighters driven out of Iraq may yet challenge the Syrian regime.

However, the Islamist opposition has been down that road before. The late Syrian President Hafez Assad brutally crushed a challenge to the regime from the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 in the city of Hama, killing some 20,000 people. Thus, as journalist Thomas Friedman wrote in his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” those who seek to challenge the Syrian regime should be prepared to play by “Hama Rules,” which would prompt Damascus to neutralize the Islamists whenever they pose a threat to the regime’s survival.

Raymond Tanter, a former senior staff member of the US National Security Council, is a visiting professor at Georgetown University and is president of the Iran Policy Committee. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

May 25th, 2009, 11:58 am


Deutsch said:

”’the Spiegel is generally pro-Israel (as are most German media, probably a healthy thing given the terrible history),”’

This is a too general statement, regarding Israel German media are not comparable to some Arab, Iranian or Turkish journals. Of course Israel is a special case in Germany due to the German history. But the situation in the media has changed since Nethanjahu, Sharon, Olmert and again Nethanjahu are at power and the critics are more subtle. Here some statements:

The pro-palestinian stance of Der Spiegel is not analysed yet, but can be seen as a critic to the Israelian politics.


I have not excluded the possibility that the Spiegel has fallen into a trap. But the fact that they publish the story and not another journal surprises me and gives bascially the story more credibility. The timing is not an indication for me. They know about the elections in Lebanon (The Spiegel coverage of the Middle East, compared with other German media is quite broad) and if they have published this information now then more likely because they are convinced and the information is waterproofed otherwise they would have waited until 8 June. Again Spiegel is not comparable to other journals in the Mideast and to my knowledge neither Hariri or the Saudis nor the US are owner of the journal. So forget about stereotypical allegations, which origins from the Arab world and which are misleading.

May 25th, 2009, 2:12 pm


Alex said:


Spare us your tiring classic Israeli tactic: let’s call the Arabs conspiracy theorists if they catch us doing dirty things.

If you have a counter point to something specific go ahead and say it, but I would ask you to refrain from your liberal use of the conspiracy (and baathist, comerades ….) labels. I hope this is clear.


With all due respect to Der Spiegel, ANY magazine or newspaper that failed to realize that Mehlis was a crook (if not only a miserable failure) after his two main witnesses were already exposed as being total fabricators, is not to be trusted with covering this story. It is that simple.

Der Spiegel should know better that this investigation has been politicized from day one … If I were an editor and was told that there is exclusive information that Party X or country Y killed Hariri, I would still not go with that story except if I position the story as simply one possibility, … I don’t understand the confidence Der Spiegel had in this story …

This is not a clean legal case… this whole thing is politics.

They should have asked themselves: Why is it that Bhutto’s assassination investigation did not get 1 percent of the interest and coverage of Hariri’s investigation?

May 25th, 2009, 6:40 pm


alle said:

T. Desce (didn’t it use to be Desco before?) — Thanks for the response.

First of all, again, I also think it is likely that this story was fed to the reporter, whether by some Israeli source (it need not be Mossad) or by the US, Saudi Arabia, any number of Lebanese parties, Abdelhalim Khaddam, the Muslim Brotherhood, or whomever. The list of possible suspects for organizing such a “leak” is long.

And, I also think the story seems implausible, even if one disregards the timing, the fact that all known sources seem to be conveniently dead, and other curious circumstances.

But that said, arguing that since Mr. Follath has written a book on Mossad must mean he has Mossad connections, and therefore that he can automatically be suspected of publishing whatever they want him to write, is not a very strong argument. Consider the number of great books and articles on Syria that has included interviews with Syrian officials — are their writers from now on under permanent suspicion of being tools of Assef Shawkat? Of course, perhaps some of them are (there are bad journalists aplenty in the Middle East) but then let’s try and gather evidence of that instead of just discounting what they’re saying as coming from a tainted source. Same with Israel — or any other country.

May 25th, 2009, 9:05 pm


alle said:

And Deutsch, I agree that Der Spiegel is, like most major European newspapers, considerably more solid and trustworthy on sourcing than most of the Arab press (not because there’s anything per se wrong with Arab journalism, except the state-owned rags with which everything is wrong, but because most Arab papers work under very different and difficult conditions). But that does not necessarily apply to the same extent outside of Germany. Both German newspapers and many European and US quality broadsheets have published reams of idiocy, propaganda, disinformation and sheer nonsense on the Middle East, without any of their normal fact-checking safeguards kicking in to prevent it. The reason is obviously that these areas are not within their normal area of expertise, and editors have a hard time judging the credibility of claims from an outsiders’ perspective — you get the same phenomenon everywhere there’s a language and culture barrier.

In the particular case of German newspapers and Syria, Die Welt has reported during the past two-three years that there had been an attempted coup d’état by Assef Shawkat, who was now in jail, and, my favorite, that Syria has been trying out its stockpiles of nerve gas on black minorities in Darfur. Particularly that last one is so outrageously crazy that it should have rung alarm bells for any moderately Arab affairs-educated editor. But apparently it did not — and then it spread like wildfire throughout the rest of the European press, which also didn’t have any qualms re-reporting it.

May 25th, 2009, 9:29 pm


Off the Wall said:

“Hezbollah Did It!”

Der Spiegel Tries Again



The headline was dramatic. The strongly pro-Israel German weekly Der Spiegel offered bold “new information” it claimed came from secret sources and documents, stemming “inside investigative sources who wefromre working on the Rafic Hariri assassination. Der Spiegel’s breakthrough ‘exclusive’ with ‘new evidence pointing to those who were guilty.

The headline screamed

UN Report Links Syrian Officials to Murder of Former Lebanese Leader

By Erich Follath et al.

Publication date? October 24, 2005, nearly four years ago.
Yes, that particular Spiegel excloo came back in 2005. Syria was accused in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri of being the ‘real’ assassins. An international anti-Syria campaign was promptly launched by the Bush Administration and Israel to demonize its government.

Fast forward to the tense run-up right now, bore the June elections. This weekend, a new exclusive, secret, investigative report showing the real, real assassins was published by the same weekly, Der Spiegel. Same author. Same editor. New target.

This time Der Spiegel’s Erich Follath claims that the international committee investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister martyr Rafik Hariri has reached “surprising new secret conclusions”, this time pointing to Hezbollah.

The new Der Spiegel head line (May 24, 2009)

New Evidence Points to Hezbollah in Hariri Murder

By Erich Follath

The German weekly claims the target is now Hezbollah after the Tribunal pressured the Lebanese government to release four Lebanese Generals last month for lack of evidenceamid a swelling outcry in the international legal and human rights community. After the generals’ release, more questions are being raised such as why the four Generals were never charged if there was inadequate evidence, or release years ago or given a bail bond, house arrest, or allowed to face their accusers or even see the supposed evidence against them. The credibility of the Tribunal diminished with each day the four remained jailed.

In many respects the 2009 Der Spiegel article is similar to the 2005 piece: “There are signs that the investigation has yielded new and explosive results”, “Spiegel has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn”, “Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion, this time that it was not the special forces of Syria, but instead special forces of Hezbollah that planned and carried out Hariri’s Feb. 2005 murder.”

As in 2005, Der Spiegel claims the investigators “apparently want to hold back the information that they have been aware of for about a month”. Der Spiegel asserts that “According to the Lebanese security forces, all of the telephone numbers involved [by the assassins] apparently belong to the ‘operational arm’ of Hezbollah.” Without an apology for the hatchet job on Syrian President Bashar Assad four years ago, Der Speigel’s the new article adds demurely that President Assad is no longer a suspect. “Hardly anything suggests anymore that he was personally aware of the murder plot or even ordered the killing”, Follath writes.

Ricocheting around Lebanon’s capitol and on the Internet are comments questioning the timing of the Spiegel report as aimed to cause maximum damage to the Hezbollah-led opposition. Who was the supposed source of the ‘leaks’ and why now, since the UN investigative office has taken great pains not to leak or politicize its work. In contrast to former investigator Detlev Mehlis, Hasan Nassrallah has never been known to order the killing of rival politicians. The 2005-2006 accusations against Syria were shown to be fallacious and based on a false witness. Der Spiegel has a rumored long history with Israeli intelligence, the “key” eight phones were never in the hands of Hezbollah but rather a Muslim Sunni organization in Trablus as Detlev Mehlis claimed to have documented.

One claim that I find very odd is the suggestion that a senior Hezbollah member would call his girl friend on a secure line was ‘on duty”. Der Spiegel’s girl friend telephone call story is a bit awkward and very un-Hezbollah. I know of two cases where female students at AUB became quite angry when their Hezbollah boyfriends up and disappeared from campus and did not even call them for a whole month. When they returned “from duty” to resume classes both tried to explain that they could not make contact while ‘working’.

Puzzling also is the German weekly’s claim that it learned “from sources close to the tribunal” and “verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn.” Der Spiegel does not make it clear if it was its source or Der Spiegel’s editors who examined these documents. If the latter, did the source to take these documents outside the very tight security building in The Hague? Surely, the investigation should be able to track this so-called source.

No evidence is offered by Der Spiegel for any of its “revelations” such as Hezbollah members who supposedly trained in Iran, bought phones, “two men who report only to their superior” (who else would they report to?) etc. How does Der Spiegel know all these secret things and why not offer some proof? How does Der Spiegel know, for example who reports to whom in Hezbollah? Does some of this highly secret information come to Der Spiegel via recently apprehended Israeli spy cells—passed on from the three Israeli intelligence agencies known to be here in Lebanon or sources connected with them?

Too volatile for Lebanon’s Campaign?

So far none of Lebanon’s political parties is taking Der Spiegel’s story as credible. MP Walid Jumblatt, Druze leader of the Progressive Socialist Party currently allied with the pro-US March 14th majority, commenting on the Der Spiegel article, warned in a Sunday speech dedicated to announce his Chouf candidates, that the article is “the game of nations that could, God forbid, derail justice and use it for things that we don’t believe in.”

The Saad Hariri-led Future Movement refused to comment on the article.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawsi Salloukh labeled it as “totally false and all lies”, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem challenged Der Spiegel and the author of the report to show evidence. “This article is politicized and reminds us of (former international investigator) Detlev Mehlis’s practices,” Moallem added. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the report “was nothing but a new attempt to sow sedition among the Lebanese….This is a media fabrication that only lacked the stamp: ‘Made in Israel’,” Berri said.

Hezbollah Media Relations Office issued a statement on Sunday in which it dismissed allegations published by Der Spiegel and broadcast by Al-Arabiyya Channel saying that it is nothing less than “police fabrications”. The statement said, “It’s not the first time that a magazine or newspaper aimed at publishing such fabrications and previously Kuwaiti paper Al-Siyasa has repeatedly published such reports along with other dailies.” The statement continued “It is nothing more than police fabrications cooked in the same black room that has been keen on fabricating such stories for over four years regarding the Syrians and the four Lebanese officers and others.” The statement added that “publishing this report by Der Spiegel and promoting for it by Al-Arabiyya is suspicious in its timing and its political and psychological exploitation especially for two reasons: First it is a pure fabrication aimed at influencing the election campaign in Lebanon on one side, and to deflect attention from the news about the dismantling of spy networks working for Israel on other…. The report comes just two weeks ahead of a June 7 parliamentary election in Lebanon.”

The German Embassy in Beirut claims not to have heard about the article and would have no comment.

Radiya Ashouri, Spokeswoman for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) says for the record: “We don’t know where the Der Spiegel magazine did get their information from and we don’t know where they brought this story from. No one in the prosecutor’s office has spoken to the German magazine about anything. We have a clear policy of not leaking any information about the tribunal through media outlets, and we have been stressing this since the beginning. When Der Spiegel spoke about Bellemar’s spokesperson, they meant me. They emailed me and asked a few questions. My answer was that the tribunal does not deal with investigation files through the media and adopts the policy of direct announcement by the part of Mr. Bellemar.If we had something to say, we would have said it directly, not through media outlets.”

Franklin Lamb works with the Sabra Shatila Foundation in Beirut. He is reachable at:

May 25th, 2009, 10:03 pm


Off the Wall said:

Sorry forgot to source Lamb’s article. It appeared in counterpunch

May 25th, 2009, 10:27 pm


Deutsch said:

@ Alex
”Why is it that Bhutto’s assassination investigation did not get 1 percent of the interest and coverage of Hariri’s investigation?”

Are you comparing here apples with tomatoes? Did Bhutto`s case sparked something simular as the CEDAR revolution and did it end of a foreign occupation? Even if it would be comparable, the media attention depends on so many other factors.

@ Alle

Die Welt is a different case, as the founder Alex Springer was known for his devoted relationship to Israel. The ‘Welt-correspond’ is usually based in Istanbul or Cyprus and covers the whole Arab World. They depend on Reuters, AFP and second hand information. But Spiegel has (freelance) journalists who are living in Beirut, Cairo or flying in as Yassin Musbarash, U. Putz, V. Windfuhr, P. Heumann (also Weltwoche). They should be competent enough to judge fabricated stories and it would be strange if the chief in editor would not double check the story with them.

One thing, I find strange, is that the Spiegel story did not get any attention in other German papers, when you look at their online-content. But maybe someone has a reference in another German/European newspaper.

May 26th, 2009, 10:17 am


Simohurtta said:

One thing, I find strange, is that the Spiegel story did not get any attention in other German papers, when you look at their online-content. But maybe someone has a reference in another German/European newspaper.

I do not find it strange. The factual basis of article is so weak that no seriously taken news media wants to spread so visible propaganda. Can anybody take seriously such “analysis” with sentences like

– Or the Iranians, who hated secularist Hariri?
(did all religious Saudis (and Sunnis) then love secularist Hariri would be a good question to mister Follath’s anonymous sources)
– Hariri’s growing popularity could have been a thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah. In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity.
(if popularity is the motive then most Lebanese leaders had a reason to eliminate Hariri).

Even the Lebanese “majority” is “questioning” Der Spiegel’s article

“I don’t envy Biden,” Jumblatt added. “He inherited the chaos that George Bush left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden told me that the administration would concentrate on Palestine and the Der Spiegel report was the Israeli answer.”

May 26th, 2009, 3:44 pm


Chris said:

Hey Everybody,

Michael J. Totten just published a piece on the news in Der Spiegel that Hezbollah may be behind Harriri’s assassination.

Did Hezbollah Kill Hariri?
Michael J. Totten Web Exclusive
The German magazine Der Spiegel dropped one heck of a political bomb on Lebanon a few days ago when it reported that United Nations investigators are now fingering Hezbollah, rather than Syria, for the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination with a car bomb in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005.

The story is based on information from anonymous sources “close to the tribunal” and documents of unknown authenticity. We don’t know yet if the lead is accurate. Intriguingly, though, the UN’s spokesperson for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon neither confirms nor denies Der Spiegel’s report. If a potentially explosive accusation like this one were false, I’d expect the UN to deny it emphatically.

Someone in Lebanon’s anti-Hezbollah “March 14” coalition may be hoping to use disinformation in Der Spiegel as a political weapon. These things happen. I’ve been lied to in Lebanon by people I trusted. It’s also possible that someone inside the UN thinks the people of Lebanon have a right to know what Hezbollah has done before they go to the polls next month and place assassins in the saddle in Beirut.

One of my own well-connected sources in Lebanon had this to say over email: “A rumor that the tribunal is going to end up issuing its indictments against Hezbollah, not Syria, has been floating around Beirut for the past month or so, and among highly credible sources. The impression I’ve gotten is that it would be largely a political move, a way to nail Hezbollah – and by association Iran – while largely letting Syria off the hook in the interests of promoting this fantasy-world ‘rapprochement’ with Damascus. Everyone I’ve heard discussing this still believes Syria did it. It’s a no brainer [sic] even if Hezbollah did play a role in carrying out the assassination.”

It is strange that, according to the Der Spiegel report, the evidence no longer points toward Syrian President Bashar Assad. That doesn’t quite pass the smell test. It’s possible, I suppose, that the UN may want to whitewash or downplay Assad’s involvement for diplomatic reasons, to promote “rapprochement” with Damascus, as some Lebanese seem to think. What is far less likely – and, in my opinion, almost impossible – is a UN plot to indict Hezbollah on false pretenses. Either Der Spiegel’s sources are taking the magazine for a ride, or the evidence against Hezbollah is authentic.

Hariri’s son and Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri is being extraordinarily careful. “We will not comment on any press leaks that do not directly come from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” he said. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Hezbollah’s fiercest critic since Syria’s ousting in 2005, is cautious too. “We cannot allow what the Der Spiegel magazine released on Saturday to become another Ain el-Remmaneh incident,” he said, referring to the Lebanese civil war’s trigger in 1975.

Leaders of the “March 14” bloc could hardly ask for a more effective political weapon against Hezbollah during the run-up to the election next month, but they also couldn’t ask for one that’s more dangerous. Jumblatt is right to invoke the incident that ignited the worst war in his country’s history. Accusing Hezbollah of assassinating Hariri – and, by implication, of assassinating a number of journalists and members of parliament in the meantime – could easily do to Lebanon what Al Qaeda’s Samarra mosque bombing in 2006 did to Iraq.

“[I]f (the majority) uses the report against Hezbollah,” said former Carnegie Endowment scholar and Hezbollah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, “then of course we’re going to see instability in Lebanon, and that’s putting it mildly.” “One word,” said Fadia Kiwan at Saint Joseph University, “could set the streets on fire.” “If the Special Tribunal for Lebanon comes out and confirms the report,” Carnegie Middle East Center Director Paul Salem said, “we could be facing an all-out civil war.” “If these rumors are true,” my own source in Lebanon added, “expect some extremely dark times ahead in Lebanon. After all, the Sunni street hates Hezbollah enough to begin with. Once Hezbollah is officially accused of assassinating Hariri, all bets are off.”

All this raises the question: if Lebanon could plunge into war should “March 14” cite an unsourced report prematurely, what might happen if the UN officially indicts Hezbollah later?

A furious revolution drove out Syrian occupation soldiers when Assad was the suspected culprit. It was possible, though, to revolt against Syria without using violence. Assad’s army was foreign and could be pressured to go home. Hezbollah lives in Lebanon. Hezbollah is already home. Hezbollah cannot withdraw. Hezbollah can only be disarmed or destroyed. And undefeated armies rarely, if ever, surrender their weapons.

Lebanese are good at compromise. “No victor, no vanquished” is the formula used to break deadlocks. The system breaks down, of course, when one faction tries to vanquish another. If Hezbollah is indicted for murdering Hariri and others, the country will be thrown into crisis. For it is neither possible nor desirable to compromise with, or compete in democratic elections with, a terrorist army that “votes” by murdering its political opponents with car bombs.


Michael J. Totten is a freelance writer and blogger who has reported from Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, Turkey, and Israel. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Reason, and numerous other publications.

May 26th, 2009, 4:21 pm


Majid said:

This Der Spiegel story is really old. Georges Malbrunot put out a piece pointing the finger at Hezbollah back in 2006, although he suggested that the Syrians were the masterminds who nevertheless implicated Hezbollah in the murder. That said, Hezbollah is very likely to have been involved one way or another. But the decision, the operational conception, and the management was Syrian. Anything that tries to clear them, like this article does, is bullshit.

This was material that was fed to the reporter by what is likely a pro-Syrian Lebanese source. I think this is essentially a Syrian plant pushing what is essentially a Syrian line.

To go back to the Der Spiegel article, the roles of the Syria and Hezbollah are certainly not mutually exclusive but rather synergistic. It is more likely that the higher orders for Hariri’s murder came from Syria and Iran with Hezbollah serving as the “Executive Branch”. As we know Syria pretty much uses proxys in its major operations and it would have to involve Iran to use Hezbollah on the ground.

May 26th, 2009, 4:36 pm


Alex said:

Sami Moubayed’s take on the Der Speigel article

Why Der Speigel was wrong

May 26, 2009

One week before his assassination in February 2005, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, out of office at the time, told Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah: “I believe in this resistance. And I am telling you that if I become prime minister again I will not implement the [disarmament] article of [UN] Resolution 1559. I swear to you that the resistance and its weapons will remain until the day a comprehensive regional settlement is reached, not just until [the Israeli] withdrawal from the Sheba’a Farms.”

Hariri added, “On that day, when that agreement is reached, I will sit with you and say: ‘Sir, there is no further need for the resistance and its weapons.’ If we agree, that’s what will be. If we disagree, I swear to you and before God [he also swore by his deceased son Hussam] that I will not fight the resistance. I will resign and leave the country [before that happens].”

Hariri after all, was an Arab nationalist at heart and a one-time member of the Movement of Arab Nationalists, who was strongly bent on breaking Israel – only through economic strength, rather than military power.

This conversation came to mind while reading the sensational report published in the German magazine Der Speigel, which accused Hezbollah – without a shred of evidence – of having ordered Hariri’s killing. The magazine reported that these findings have been kept secret by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which opened in March in the Netherlands, adding, “investigators now believe Hezbollah was behind the Hariri murder.”

It adds that a “special force” from Hezbollah, “planned and executed the diabolical attack”. The magazine does not quote sources, nor does it support its argument with documents, simply firing off accusations that it expects readers to accept as fact.

Among other things, it said that cellular phone lines linked to the murder were the property of Hezbollah, and trace directly to a certain Hajj Salim (no last name), who the magazine describes as second-in-command of Hezbollah and head of a special operational unit. It adds that this was discovered when a Hezbollah commando used one of the hot lines to telephone his girlfriend.

It claims – again with no evidence – that Nasrallah felt threatened by Hariri’s popularity, because “the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity”. Hariri was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah”. Anybody familiar with Lebanese politics knows that this is untrue, since each man represented a different constituency.

Hariri, a smart man, never tried to penetrate the Shiite strongholds of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah. Likewise, although many Sunnis supported Nasrallah, they never saw him as their champion. The conversation between the men, and a study of the Nasrallah-Hariri relationship in 1992-2005, is testimony that Hezbollah had no business eliminating a man who had supported its war during his different tenures as prime minister. It would have been like shooting itself in the foot.

The cellular phone story is grossly flawed, since the lines mentioned were bought by a Sunni group in Tripoli, and not by Hezbollah, a fact that was stated by the first Special Tribunal for Lebanon prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, and confirmed by all his successors, including the incumbent, Daniel Bellemare.

Let us keep in mind that if Hezbollah wanted to purchase the lines, it certainly would not have sent certified Hezbollah members to do the job. Simply put, the group is too smart to leave behind a smoking gun. Hezbollah does not perform reckless acts. It would certainly not allow one of its members to call a girlfriend from a phone number tied to an assassination of this magnitude.

The 62-year-old magazine has a long track record of misconduct and is often accused of sensationalising stories for the sake of sales. It became notorious in 1950, when the federal parliament launched an inquiry into the magazine’s accusations that bribes had been paid to members of parliament to ensure that Bonn, rather than Frankfurt, became the seat of the West German government.

In 1962, there was the so-called ‘Spiegel Scandal’, after the magazine published a report on the low state of readiness of the German armed forces – prompting authorities to launch an investigation, raid its offices and arrest its editors. Wolf Schneider, an eminent German journalist, has called the magazine “the biggest mangler of the German language”.

Many believe that the magazine’s latest accusations are linked directly to the upcoming Lebanese elections, and have been fabricated by a certain party to hurt Hezbollah’s chances. The organisation itself expects a landslide victory and several countries have already said that they are willing to deal with any elected Lebanese government. Many in Lebanon and Israel are not happy about this, and would go to great lengths to try to change perceptions about Hezbollah two weeks ahead of the election.

Hezbollah has called what was published in Der Spiegel lies and called on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to take action against the magazine.

As the story snowballed, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora yesterday downplayed the information published in Der Spiegel, while Druze leader Walid Junblatt added that Israel was behind the story, warning that it might trigger another civil war. The controversy will have a direct impact on the elections – in Nasrallah’s favour.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

May 26th, 2009, 5:13 pm


Chris said:

I get the sense that Sami Moubayed is reflexively pro-regime.

May 26th, 2009, 8:06 pm


Alex said:

He is close, … but note that this article that Sami is criticizing is itself “pro regime” … The Der Speigel article is (finally) admitting that “the regime” did not kill Hariri.

May 26th, 2009, 8:20 pm


Deutsch said:

Today, Le Monde has published an article about the Spiegel story and reports about the reaction in Lebanon and about respective articles in Lebanese newspapers.

I do not know where Sami Moubayed gets his information about the Spiegel, maybe he is using a bad translation programme, but what he writes about the history of the Spiegel is rubbish.

May 26th, 2009, 10:14 pm


majid said:

In support of Deutsch comment against Moubayed (but not of Der Spiegel), I add, Moubayed didn’t provide any support for the alleged conversation between Rafik Hariri and Hassan Nasrallah. It is unlikely such conversation could have taken place since it contradicts Taif for which Hariri was an architect. The funny thing about the name Moubayed is that it is associated with a certain trade which performs a ‘whitening process’ on brass kitchen utensils widely used in the Arab world. The name Moubayed in Arabic literally means whitener from making things white. Moubayed was certainly engaged in performing a ‘whitening process’ on the relation between Hariri and Nasrallah!

A piece by Michael Young is worth reading. It explains logically the possible motivations for the DS article.

May 26th, 2009, 11:08 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Has Michael Young written on the subject of the release of the Four Generals? Has he offered an explanation for why the release took place for supposedly insufficient evidence?

May 26th, 2009, 11:31 pm


majid said:

Actually he (Michael Young) did write about the release of the four Generals. You can read it here.

May 27th, 2009, 12:03 am


alle said:

Majid — The source for that quote is interesting.

It is Nasrallah himself that recounts what he claims Hariri said to him, as reprinted by al-Mustaqbal. And the translation is by … MEMRI. Quite a row of biased sources stacked up there, but maybe they cancel each other out. Even so, to treat it as an undisputed quote is not very inspiring journalism.

As for meetings between Hariri and Nasrallah, this has been covered in more detail by Nicholas Blanford in his book Killing Mr. Lebanon. Regardless of the exactness of the quote, Blanford confirms Hariri’s attitude as described above, and on p. 226 n. 26, there’s another quote from Nasrallah telling the same story on al-Manar in 2006.

May 27th, 2009, 12:20 am


EHSANI2 said:

Mr. Young’s article on the release of the Generals (cited above) is rather weak.

May 27th, 2009, 12:23 am


Chris said:


It is not as if Syria and Hezbollah are working against eachother. Although, Michael Young does see this article has a plus for the Baathist regime as it draws light away from the thugs in Damascus.

Michael Young:
“…Follath, intentionally or unintentionally, is being used to draw the light away from Syria by casting it on Hizbullah. However, all the evidence that has filtered out from the UN investigation, as well as circumstantial evidence, leads in the direction of a principal mastermind: the regime in Damascus, regardless of who was implicated in the crime to guarantee everyone’s silence. It was only Syrian participation that could have pushed the Lebanese security agencies, then completely dominated by Syria, to corrupt the crime scene; it was only Syrian participation that could lead a Lebanese security chief to distribute the video of Ahmad Abu Adas claiming responsibility for the crime; and it was above all Syrian insistence after 2006 that pushed Hizbullah and Amal to block the creation of the tribunal through Lebanese state institutions.

Recall this crucial exchange in April 2007 between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Assad in Damascus. The Shiite ministers had left the government, and there was talk of establishing the Hariri tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Ban asked Assad to support the tribunal. Instead, Assad replied that Lebanon was a country of instability, which “will worsen if the special tribunal is established. Particularly if it is established under Chapter VII. This might easily cause a conflict that would degenerate into civil war, provoking divisions between Sunnis and Shiites from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea …”

Echoes of Assad’s message permeate the Der Spiegel article, which implicitly asks whether the truth about who killed Rafik Hariri merits a Sunni-Shiite war. The Damascus conversation was leaked by a UN source to the daily Le Monde, and stands as a telling document. For why would Assad have been so worried about a tribunal passed under Chapter VII authority had Syria been innocent of Hariri’s elimination?…”

May 27th, 2009, 12:30 am


majid said:

Thanks for the information ALLE.

I am not doubting that Hariri was an Arab National. I am disputing the authenticity of the conversation. Blanford may have quoted Nasrallah as you said. Do we confirmation from Hariri, for example.? We cannot take very thing Nasrallah says as authentic. After all Nasrallah is a politician and you should not forget that. I do not subscribe to the idea of holiness to eveything he says.

Even if the conversation did take place (in contradiction of Taif), Taif is the consensus agreement which basically defines the constitution of present day Lebanon. According to Taif, Hezb must disarm following the liberation of the South which took place in the year 2000. That is 9 years overdue now.

May 27th, 2009, 1:12 am


Martine said:

is it possible for Palestinians to become citizens of Lebanon? it looks like Palestinians are very comfortable there.

May 27th, 2009, 1:52 am


alle said:

I agree with you that one shouldn’t trust this quote on Nasrallah’s word alone. On Hariri’s views of HA’s guns, I suggest you check out the book. There’s a little bit more in it, which suggests he was being pretty pragmatic/opportunistic about the whole thing.

As for Taif, well yeah, I agree with you on that. Hopefully some sort of deal can be crafted around a return of Shebaa and a merger of resistance & army, but I guess there are plenty of people on all sides who are not interested in making that work. Particularly depressing right now is that Israel seems to have decided to do a unilateral pullout from Shebaa, à la Gaza, instead of putting it into the context of negotiations or a package deal. If so, it’s still a good thing, but they’ll be wasting the opportunity to help change HA’s relation to the Lebanese state.

May 27th, 2009, 2:50 am


majid said:

I couldn’t understand the state of tension that marked the relation between Hariri and Nasrallah during the 90’s, even though there were occasions of seeming cooperation as in the case when Hariri brokered the April Understanding through his connections to the Hezb’s advantage. I can only understand it now in retrospect. there were two opposing agendas at play that were trying to accomodate each other but they were bound to clash. It brings to mind the early relationship between the Ayatollah and Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr. Bani Sadr was tolerated and made use of as a spokesman for the revolution to the outside world until the revolution gained foot. Then there were attempts to liquidate him had he not succeeded in running away. In fact, several messages of intimidation were sent to Hariri before he was murdered. For example, the two rockets that were fired at his media offices were a clear message of threat in order to force him to leave the country. The party behind the attack presumed a person with his wealth would just pack up and leave.

As for the weapons issue, it can only be resolved by the Lebanese themselves through dialog. With or without returning Shebaa, a peace deal is not feasible at the moment.

May 27th, 2009, 6:29 am


NoName said:

“Is it the source that examined the internal documents or is it spiegel that examined these documents.”

The german version of the Spiegel Article indicates, that the documents were shown to the Spiegel.

June 2nd, 2009, 10:19 pm


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