“Let’s blame (Imad) Mughniyah for killing Hariri. He’s dead so the investigative trail ends. Just say, ‘We had no idea what he was doing’. No more tribunal. Everyone is happy. And as a sweetener we’ll take Hezbollah off our Terrorism list.” — US undersecretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Hezbollah via the Saudi-Syrian, back channel on October 10, 2010
“Do you think we’re that stupid?” — Hezbollah (smelling a set-up) to Obama via the same channel, October 23, 2010
(Dahiyeh, South Beirut) — 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, created in 2007 to bring to justice those involved in the Valentine Day 2005 assassination of then Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Another one occurred on Wednesday morning, October 27, at 9:00 am at Dr. Iman Charara’s street level private obstetrics and gynecology clinic, here in Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah south Beirut neighborhood that 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 October 22 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,” an 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. 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 Wednesday’s incident.
Jeffrey Feltman, the Undersecretary of State for near eastern affairs and a Bush administration holdover is the prime suspect among some. 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, and like Sison before her, functions, according to one Congressional source, as “a talking potted plant. Both served to occupy the Ambassador’s office at the US Embassy in Beirut, but Feltman still calls the shots, just as David Welch did before his retirement.”