Apr 25, 2015

Hariri's intermediary with Hezbollah testifies at the Lebanon Tribunal

The witness who testified between 9 and 13 April was Mr. Mustapha Nasser, an advisor to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Though called as a witness for the Prosecution, the Defence definitely benefited from his testimony, as will be clear from the summary below. Also, the Defence attempts to highlight Israel's involvement in Lebanon, so as to deflect Syria's possible responsibility.

From 1992 until the day of his assassination, the witness acted as an intermediary between Hariri and several Hezbollah members, in particular Hassan Nasrallah, the organization's Secretary General, and his right hand Hussein Khalil. Mr. Khalil was in charge of the political relations between Nasrallah and prominent figures from other organizations. The witness says that he was chosen to act in that manner by Hariri because he was a journalist, and it was easy for him to communicate with all the political parties and figures, in particular Hezbollah.

From August 2004 until Hariri's assassination in February 2005, the meetings between him and Hezbollah became more frequent than in the period prior to that; in total they met four or five times during that period. Mr. Hariri would request the witness to set up a meeting by contacting Mr. Khalil by phone, although most requests came from Nasrallah's side, says the witness.

Initially, meetings were held at different locations in Dahyieh, Hezbollah's headquarters; some of the meetings were held at the witness's residence. From August 2004 until February 2005, the meetings were all held in Dahyieh. After the meetings, Mr. Hassan and Mr. Hariri would return to Quraitem Palace to discuss the meeting. The meetings were all attended by Mr. Nasrallah, Mr. Khalil for Hezbollah and Mr. Hariri and the witness. During the route to the meeting, they would be accompanied by one or two of Hariri's bodyguards, Wissam el-Hassan and Abou-Tareq, but they would never attend the meetings. After the extension of President Lahoud's term in September 2004, the focus of the meetings was more on the electoral alliance and about the adoption of UN Resolution 1559. Hezbollah was concerned about the adoption of that resolution because it called for the disarmament of Hezbollah. According to the witness, Mr. Hariri was politically close to the Americans, the French and the Saudis. Mr. Hariri had to convince Mr. Nasrallah that his allegiance did not lie outside of Lebanon. The witness states:
"Mr. Nasrallah said to Mr. Hariri, 'We are afraid to have an alliance with you because before the dialogue started with you we felt that you are a person who will implement Resolution 1559 against us because the text of that resolution is against us. the previous governments were corrupt. to have an alliance with you, we need to agree on an interpretation of Resolution 1559 because we fear that you want to participate in the elections and win those elections and then disarm the resistance.'"
According to the witness, Mr. Hariri was a very patient man who was very experienced in negotiations and in trying to convince the other party in negotiations. Sometimes the political situation required confrontation, but essentially he was a man of negotiations and dialogue, and this was reflected in the relationship between Hezbollah and Hariri. According to Mr. Nasser, Hariri saw Hezbollah as a political party and as a (legitimate) resistance to the Israeli enemy in south Lebanon.

In cross-examination, the witness testifies that a few days prior to his assassination, Mr. Hariri had asked the witness to convey to Mr. Nasrallah that President Chirac of France would prevent putting Hezbollah's name on the list of terrorism in Brussels.

Also, the role of Israel in Lebanon was discussed by the witness, and Mr. Hariri's attempts to navigate this issue. The witness described the history of political assassinations by Israel in Lebanon, and indicated that Hezbollah does not have such a history of attacks in Lebanon. The cross-examination then focused on the role of Syria. Through mediation by Hezbollah, the dialogue between Syria and Hariri was always kept open and focused on the future of Lebanese-Syrian relations. Until the day of the assassination, Mr. Khalil was preparing a meeting between Mr. Hariri and Bashar al-Assad, in order to complete the negotiations regarding the forthcoming period, and aiming at improving relations in respect of Resolution 1559.

Three days after the assassination, Mr. Nasrallah went with his bodyguard and Mr. Khalil to pay their respects to the Hariri family at their residence. The family asked Mr. Nasrallah to help them uncover the truth behind the assassination and establish an Arab tribunal led by Saudi judges. President Assad was also contacted to this extent, and he informed Nasrallah that he was willing to assist with that. When the witness communicated this to the Hariri family, they informed him that they were no longer interested in an Arab tribunal, but rather an international tribunal.

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