Intrigue in Lebanon Was Murdered Intelligence Chief a Hero or Double Agent?
In mid-October, a massive car bomb killed Wissam al-Hassan in downtown Beirut. The intelligence chief was buried as a hero and praised by the West for his help in investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Or was he a double agent, possibly also active sometimes for the Syrians?
It’s a story of personal oaths of allegiance and clan loyalties, a story of war, betrayal and deceit, a story that could only be written about the Middle East. At the story’s center stand four men and two murders.
Rafik Hariri, a business tycoon worth billions, helped rebuild Lebanon after its bloody 15-year civil war. He was an important political leader of the country’s Sunnis and Lebanon’s prime minister for roughly a decade. In October 2004, he resigned to protest the string-pulling exerted by neighboring Syria and Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Shiite militia bankrolled by Damascus. A few months later, on Valentine’s Day 2005, Hariri would die in a massive roadside bombing attack.
Saad Hariri, Rafik’s 42-year-old son and political heir, swore that he would get to the bottom of the murder and even availed himself of foreign assistance to do so. In 2007, the United Nations decided to set up a Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The tribunal has been operating from its headquarters near The Hague, in the Netherlands, since the spring of 2009. The younger Hariri came to be known as one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, which succeeded in driving almost all Syrian troops out of the country. Saad Hariri would serve as Lebanon’s prime minister from 2009 until 2011, when his coalition government collapsed. These days, he leads his opposition movement in exile from Paris.
Hassan Nasrallah, the 52-year-old head of Hezbollah, has oscillated between suppressed and open hostility with the Hariris. In addition to overseeing a militia that is stronger than Lebanon’s army, Nasrallah commands a powerful political organization. At the moment, his party essentially controls the government in Beirut, and he views himself as the only force fighting against “Zionist occupiers.” He also sees the STL as little more than an “American-Israeli conspiracy.”
And then there is Wissam al-Hassan, who is currently the main protagonist in this great game.