With the announcement from Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah this week that Hizbullah members may be indicted for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Raifk Hariri, one thing is now (publicly) clear, no matter what one may think about the integrity of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL): the militant Shiite party is both angry and concerned. Of course, this isn’t a wholly new development: the party has apparently been preparing for just such an eventuality at least since the summer of 2006 when the first media reports began circulating in this regard (interestingly, in Hizbullah’s analysis, these reports came just after Israel found itself unable to smash its bitter enemy in open battle during the July War).
At that time, and over the intervening years, the party was genuinely fearful that an STL indictment against it — for the murder of the leading Sunni in the country — might be added to an already formidable, though not insurmountable, “Cedar Revolution” cocktail of threats and weaknesses pressed by its many domestic, regional and international opponents. Indeed, more than the danger of another Israeli assault, it can be said that Hizbullah felt existentially threatened at the time by the prospect of an open civil war, aided and abetted by outside powers and fought along sectarian lines (mainly Sunni-Druze vs. Shiite). Hizbullah had learned, and painfully so, that its ultimate fight against Israel could not be properly conducted in times of internal bloodshed — such as during the Amal-Hizbullah engagements of the late 1980s — and that an STL indictment during a period of already high sectarian tension could tip the balance.
Now, however, the party has reached a fundamentally different — and more secure — position of political, diplomatic and military power, not to mention ideological coherence. Which is precisely why one should not over-emphasize Hizbullah’s concern vis-à-vis the STL’s current (purported) track — unless you are a partisan and/or polemicist and have a stake in shaping the course of the fight.