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Beirut is abuzz over some pretty bizarre events that have been unfolding the past few months concerning Hezbollah and the UN created International Tribunal for Lebanon, set up in 2007 to bring to justice those involved in the Valentine Day 2005 assassination of then Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
One such event occurred yesterday morning, 10/27/10, at 9:00 am at Dr. Iman Charara’s street-level private obstetrics and gynecology clinic, here in Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah south Beirut neighborhood which is still recovering from Israel’s 33 days of carpet bombing in 2006 which destroyed pretty much everything including more than 250 homes, scores of businesses, and much of the infrastructure.
Some, but not all of the facts of this still unfolding episode are agreed upon. Two English-speaking male investigators, two male security persons, and one female interpreter, all from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon arrived in Dahiyeh to speak with Dr. Charara. They asked for phone numbers and addresses of 17 of her patients for as far back as 2003. The STL had called on 10/22/10 to make an appointment, and after checking with the Lebanese Medicinal Association regarding privacy issues, Dr. Charara agreed. When she led the delegation into an adjoining office to consult with her secretary about researching her office files, according to Dr. Charara, “I was surprised by the large number of women who came shouting and cursing the investigators,” she told this morning Beirut’s Daily Star. Dr. Iman Charara told New TV that she does not know how the clash between the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigators and the women at her clinic erupted.
According to one witness who has a business opposite the clinic:
“The women were yelling ‘you are American, Israeli!’ and they were cursing the investigators and demining that they leave.” At least one briefcase, a laptop computer, cell phones, notebooks and other material was taken from the STL investigators during the melee. According to the Office of the STL Prosecutor: “ Mr Bellemare and the STL takes this incident very seriously and we are currently conducting an investigation,” the media relations unit of the Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) stated by email. “We want everything returned, including the cell phones that were stolen.”
Bellemare’s office also denounced the “use of violence” against two of its investigators saying that the event will not deter the office’s investigation. “Several items belonging to Bellemare’s office staff were stolen during the attack,” it added. A security source told The Daily Star the belongings that were confiscated during the attack contained important STL documents.
So far unproven allegations in Beirut this morning claim that some of the Burqa clad “women” were in fact men. “One woman definitely had a man’s hand and was very strong. I saw a man’s hand as ‘she’ bit mine” one police officer reported.
Visibly upset, an anti-resistance March 14 Member of Parliament, stated, “Where are the briefcases? Who cares now? Within two hours Hezbollah surely has copied everything—CD’s, flash memories, the works. Hezbollah may now know as much about the STL prosecution’s case as Bellemare does. Maybe more! This is one hell of a mess.”
The March 14 Secretariat General issued a statement saying “the incident represents an attack on the international community’s legitimacy and its resolutions, and particularly, UN resolutions 1701 (UNIFIL and disarming of Hezbollah) and 1757 ( setting up the Hariri Tribunal).”
Hezbollah has denied any connection between the incident at Dr. Charara’s clinic and the Party. “It seems it will not be the last in a series of violations of the country and its sovereignty under what is said to be investigation and truth,” a Al-Manar television news anchor said. Meanwhile, Hezbollah Secretarial-General Hassan Nasrallah is expected to hold a news conference on the subject.
Some knowledgeable sources are starting to ask questions this morning regarding the STL investigators conduct. “ If the Media Office of the STL had followed the rules and contacted the Media Office of Hezbollah before sending in their team, things would have been different”, Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil told this observer.
It is true that the STL knew, or should have known, apart from the common courtesy aspect, that for security reasons the rules regarding such visits include contacting the Hezbollah Office of Media Relations in Dahiyeh. If its Director, Dr. Ibrahim Mousawi is not in, his competent and gracious assistants Wafa or Rana will professionally assist visitors. Practically everyone in Lebanon, certainly media representatives, know this. Why did the STL apparently attempt an end run around security especially since just this week the Lebanese court sentenced 32 more Israeli spies to jail terms, five from the Mossad’s overseas intelligence service? In addition, more than 100 people have been arrested on suspicion of espionage just since April 2009, including telecom employees, members of the security forces and even some active duty troops.
People are edgy in Dahiyeh and elsewhere in Lebanon about foreigners seeming to snoop around.
Broad-ranging analyses are running the gamut this morning. MP Yassine Jaber of the Shia Amal movement, an ally of Hezbollah, said during an interview with local television, that the incident was a sign the tribunal was “not welcome” in Lebanon.
Various diplomatic sources, as well as some political party officials and security contacts think they know what caused yesterday’s incident.
Such sources surmise that Jeffrey Feltman, the Undersecretary of State for near eastern affairs and a Bush administration holdover is the prime suspect. Feltman was the American Ambassador to Lebanon from 2004-2008. In reality he never left although Michele Sison and now Maura Connelly, both handpicked by Feltman, succeeded him here in Lebanon. Connelly was his former personal assistant. What caused yesterday’s incident according to the above sources approximate the following:
Feltman, sources claim, was beside himself as were many in the State Department and on Capitol hill by the reception Lebanon gave to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month. At the time Feltman was in Saudi Arabia discussing his claimed creation and pet project, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. He poured into increasingly unsympathetic Saudi ears what he thought was “ a really great plan” how to solve the growing STL problem which he admitted Washington and Tel Aviv had underestimated.
The Saudis told Feltman they would discuss the matter with the Syrians who would contact Hezbollah.
Feltman had planned to drop in on Damascus but instead he tore over to Lebanon, on White House short notice orders, he told his friend, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. His mission was to denounce Ahmadinejad’s visit as “provocative, creating instability, and not helpful to the “peace process.”
Lebanon yawned at his airport statements, including the identical one that Hilary Clinton made earlier in Bosnia: “With respect to President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, the United States supports the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon. We reject any efforts to destabilize or inflame tensions within Lebanon. We are very committed to supporting the Lebanese Government as it deals with a number of challenges in its region.” To many Lebanese, it was Mr. Feltman’s visit that violated Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty. His problems began to increase and he found that Lebanon was still largely in a state of rapture over the Iranian President’s visit and the juicy prospects for up to S10 billion in trade ( having already received $ 1 billion in aid) between Iran and Lebanon. His meeting with Lebanon’s President Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri were perfunctory. Parliamentary Speaker Berri, ally of Hezbollah even declined to meet with Feltman citing a “conflict of schedule” which one Amal source joked meant Berri wanted to watch the latest Sherlock Holmes movie with his family. Some did complain in the media about Feltman not observing ‘diplomatic protocol’ by not giving advanced notice and expecting Lebanese officials to clear their weekend relaxation time to be at his beck and call.
But what apparently really caused Feltman to urge to STL to squeeze Hezbollah by sending its investigators to Dahiyeh to signal that the Tribunal was impossible to stop, was the rejection by all factions but the Lebanese Forces, of the Feltman Plan. Its reported essence, now apparently scrapped, was as follows:
Given that Washington realized that there is no way that the Tribunal is going to work out, it is best to find a way to trash it. Feltman has a “Dead men don’t talk” plan. Imad, Mughniyah who many thought was dead these past 26 years was really killed this time on February 12, 2008 in Damascus. Beirut sources reveal that Israel, who killed Mughniyah, aimed for February 14, not the 12th in order to deliver the message that it can carry out an assassination at will and on any date. Israel wanted to kill Mughniyah on the same day Hariri was assassinated, i.e. February 14. But they missed their target date by less than 48 hours. Feltman believes, but has never been able to prove according to former CIA agent Robert Baer, that Mughniyah might have been involved in anti-American acts in April of 1983, (US Embassy), October of 1984 (US Marine barracks) and other so-called “terrorist” activities.
Earlier this month, Feltman sent a message to Hezbollah to the effect than if Hezbollah will go along with blamingMughniyah for killing Hariri that works for the Americans because it will be circumstantial evidence that he also did acts of terrorism in the 1980’s so all files could be closed once and for all. He told more than one person he met with in Beirut this month that he thought his was “a really great plan.”
Apparently Secretary Clinton and President Obama did too.
Hezbollah did not.
One knowledgeable source explained: “ Feltman’s project is unimaginable. First Hezbollah had nothing to do with Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination. Secondly, if even a 9 year old Madhi scout or one of our street sweepers committed an offense the Party would accept full responsibility. We are one. Nasrallah has made this clear. We would never betray one of our own or allow a false charge to be made against him or her.”
One party member told this observer: “Feltman knows exactly what he is doing and its an infantile attempt to set up the National Lebanese Resistance.” Another Dahiyeh source explained; “If Hezbollah were to sacrifice Imad Mughniyah or any of its members, Feltman and the Israelis would shout, ‘See, the Shia killed the Sunni so let’s go hang them!’ He tried to trick Hezbollah.”
So Feltman may have messaged the STL investigators to “do your job” yesterday.
The “ladies” of Dahiyeh sent a return message.
FRANKLIN LAMB is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable at email@example.com