- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri pushed back Wednesday against a report claiming he planned to end his support for the U.N.'s Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the body investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

A statement issued by Mr. Hariri’s office said the prime minister “finds the leaked reports do not show the truth.”

The report, by the pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper Al-Diyar, quotes Mr. Hariri saying that the Lebanese government will “work to stop the activities of the tribunal and to cancel the work protocol between the government and the tribunal” and that he will resist any indictments, saying, “I have sacrificed a lot and cannot sacrifice more.”

The statement from Mr. Hariri’s office disputed the quotes, saying that “the prime minister did not say in front of visitors or in private meetings any of the statements attributed to him by Al-Diyar.”

The back-and-forth comes as the tribunal, established in March 2006 by the U.N. Security Council, prepares to release indictments in coming weeks that are widely expected to implicate members of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite political movement that sits in Mr. Hariri’s own government.

Hezbollah, which calls the tribunal a Zionist plot and accuses Israel of killing Rafik Hariri, has threatened to use its veto power to block funding for the tribunal, which receives half of its budget from the Lebanese government. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said his group will “cut off the hand” of anyone who seeks to arrest any of its members.

Some fear that Hezbollah, whose armed forces are stronger than those of the central government, might use a moment of crisis to stage a coup against Mr. Hariri or launch another war against Israel.

Mr. Hariri has been working feverishly to prevent the tribunal’s findings from plunging the country back into chaos two decades after Lebanon’s bloody civil war ended.

Lee Smith, author of “The Strong Horse: Power, Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations,” noted that the domestic heat Mr. Hariri is feeling to stop the tribunal is augmented by regional pressures - not only from Hezbollah’s backers in Syria and Iran, but also from Mr. Hariri’s own political patrons in Saudi Arabia, who have been seeking to broker a deal with Damascus on the matter.

“Obviously, the Syrians are worried because everyone knows that Hezbollah could not have pulled this off at least without the approval of high-up Syrian figures - the sorts of people who were initially thought to have been responsible for the assassination and may yet be found to be responsible,” Mr. Smith said.

“But if you see Hezbollah the way I do … Hezbollah is an asset of the Iranian regime,” he added, noting that the indictments are expected to target figures from Hezbollah’s Special Operations Unit who worked under the command of Imad Mughniyah, a Hezbollah liaison to Tehran. “Hezbollah doesn’t make these sorts of decisions without Iran. People forget to add that into the calculation.”

Iran supplies Hezbollah with weapons and the bulk of its funding, though the subsidies reportedly have been cut by as much as 40 percent as a result of the impact of international sanctions on the Iranian economy.

Last month, Mr. Hariri visited Iran to seek Tehran’s help in pacifying its proxy.