Hassan Nasrallah's statement tonight was every bit as dramatic as his broadcast during the 2006 war when he announced than an Israeli naval vessel, hit by Hizbullah, was ablaze off Beirut.
The drama this time came from his revelation that for a number of years Hizbullah has been able to intercept the signals from Israel surveillance drones flying over Lebanon. Intelligence gained in this way allowed Hizbullah to set a trap for the Israelis in Ansariyah in 1999 – causing the Israelis to suspect that theyhad been betrayed by a spy in their own camp.
But it appears that Hizbullah was not alone in being watched by Israeli drones. Nasrallah (as reported in Qifa Nakbi's live blog of his statement) continued:
9:46: I will now move to discuss the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. I was asked by the Hariri family if Hizbullah could help in the investigation, shortly after the killing.
9:50: Hizbullah formed a team to go through all of the films leading up to the 2005 assassination so as to determine whether there was indeed evidence that Israel was preparing an operation. We are still in the process of this, after hundreds of hours, and yet we have come to very important conclusions.
9:53: The footage that we will show is from Beirut and from the road that leads from Beirut to Hariri’s residence in Faqra.
9:58: [Shows presentation of footage of the route that Hariri took when he was killed. There is a special focus on street corners, because those are the places that are favored for car bomb attacks against politicians (because the convoy has to slow down).]
10:05: In all of these places that we showed you (in Ras Beirut, etc.) does the Resistance have control centers or offices, etc.? No. Is it just coincidence that the Israelis were surveilling these areas in such detail before the assassination?
10:07: [Shows a presentation of footage of the road to Faqra, which is the only way to get there from the coastal highway. This was the road that Hariri used to take to get to his resort.]
10:09: No one from Hizbullah, to my knowledge, lives in Faqra. Now we will show you surveillance footage focusing on the highway into Saida, leading all the way up to Shafiq al-Hariri’s house (the brother of the victim).
If what Nasrallah claims turns out to be true, then Israel certainly has some explaining to do. My first reaction to this information, though, is that it's intriguing but we need to know a lot more detail before it becomes anywhere near persuasive.
I'm still very dubious about Israel's motive for supposedly wanting to kill Hariri and, as far as I'm concerned, the political context at the time still points strongly towards Syria. (The US and the Hariri investigators have since backed off from blaming Syria, but of course the political context has changed again and now it's be-nice-to-Syria time.)
It seems to me likely, though, that Nasrallah's statement may achieve what was presumably its prime objective: to muddy the waters enough to throw the special tribunal into disarray at a time when it was about to issue indictments implicating Hizbullah.
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 August 2010.