Belfast Telegraph

As tribunal falters, what hope is left for Lebanon?

By Robert Fisk

I think it should be a Beirut Diary this week. Deep background, you understand.

The truth. Believe me, it is. When President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad entered the palace dining room to eat with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week - Saad being the son of ex-premier Rafiq who was murdered by... we'll come to that later - Saad made sure that Beethoven was on the public address system. It was the Ninth Symphony, the 'Ode to Freedom'.

The moment the Iranian President sat down, he turned to Saad and said: "Let's skip the lunch. Let's have sandwiches and go to southern Lebanon together."

Now here was a problem. Saad is a Sunni Muslim; Mahmoud, of course, is a Shia, and the Iranian President was inviting a Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon to visit the Shia south of Lebanon where he (Mahmoud, that is) would declare that southern Lebanon - he was speaking less than two miles from the Israeli border - was Iran's "front line" against Israel. Saad politely declined the invitation and Mahmoud went on to Bint Jbeil to rally his lads and lassies on his own.

Lucky that he was even in Lebanon. The Beirut air traffic control boys had already expressed their concern when the Iranian President's Boeing 707 aircraft made its approach. Wasn't there a ban on ancient 707s arriving at Beirut's ultra-modern airport? Ban overruled.

Stopping in Damascus, Ahmadinejad told Bashar Assad, the president of Syria whose Hezbollah-Iranian relations are second to none, he wanted Nouri al-Maliki to be Iraq's prime minister. Assad told his Syrian cabinet that "our friends want Maliki". And Ahmadinejad, like the Syrians, opposed The Hague tribunal which may blame Hezbollah members for the murder of Rafiq Hariri.

Nonsense. Wasn't it supposed to be the Syrians who killed Hariri (or so The New York Times and the London Times would have us believe), that blew Hariri's motorcade up on St Valentine's Day of 2005? Nope. Since the Syrians offered their assistance to the United States in Iraq, it's been the pesky Iranians (courtesy The New York Times and The Times of London) who, through their Hezbollah allies, have been blamed for the mass slaughter.

Anyway. Ahmadinejad poured scorn on the UN's Hague tribunal. And lo and behold, on Thursday morning this week, two officers of The Hague tribunal turned up in Beirut to examine the records of a gynaecological clinic.

The Hague spokespeople won't say what this is about. But I can tell you. Between 15 and 17 Shia Muslim women from the southern suburbs of Beirut - who are having pregnancy tests at the clinic - are sisters or wives of leading Hezbollah officials, and The Hague guys wanted their mobile numbers to match them with calls made from the same numbers on the afternoon of Hariri's murder, perhaps by their husbands.

So The Hague men arrived at the clinic. But they were met by up to 150 ladies, minibussed to the clinic to complain at this personal intrusion. Hezbollah denies all knowledge of the affair. Of course. But the women pulled the hair of the Hague's female interpreter and so jostled The Hague men that they managed to get their hands on one of their briefcases.

Needless to say, The Hague won't identify the nationality of their own two foolish officials who thought they could brazenly walk into Hezbollah's fiefdom with their secrets intact in a briefcase. I can reveal that one of them was French, the other Australian.

They had asked for a 9am appointment with the head of the clinic - this appointment was, of course, betrayed to Hezbollah - and they didn't get those mobile telephone numbers. They just lost their briefcase. As I write, the contents are being translated by Hezbollah. What hope The Hague tribunal? What hope Lebanon?


From Belfast Telegraph