Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Anticlimax


So, I watched Nasrallah’s speech last night, along with most of Lebanon. I also read the regular updates here and here.

I must say, after all the anticipation, I was left somewhat deflated. The hype had suggested that there was evidence that Israel had killed Hariri.

There was no such clear evidence. 
This is what, in a nutshell, Nasrallah said:

1.      Israel has the capability to kill people through clandestine means
2.      Israel has done this before
3.      Numerous Israeli spies have been arrested recently, they specialised in the following areas: Surveillance, information gathering, logistics and the smuggling of people over the border.

1 and 2 are clearly true. 3? It certainly seems to be true. – But there’s nothing new here.

There was use of video of Israeli UAVs flying over Beirut. The video followed two routes taken in the past by Hariri’s motorcade. He highlighted how they seemed to linger above corners and sharp turns in the road, where the convoy would slow down.

There was also video of confessions by the alleged spies. The only mention of Hariri was from a man employed to watch his residence.

Nasrallah appeared to have backtracked and stated time and time again that this was not an open and shut case. He claimed that this was a “war of public opinion” and that it was odd that, given there was an official investigation, that the Israelis weren’t suspects.

My thoughts:

1.      This seems to be a clear step backward from earlier claims of proof
2.      Everything was circumstantial
3.      There was only one agent linked, in any way, to Hariri
4.      Nasrallah has refused to hand over copies of the videos to the international tribunal, saying he will hand it to an independent Lebanese body. As a result, the video cannot be verified or studied Israel undoubtedly conducts UAV surveillance of Beirut, to believe otherwise would be naïve. However, given that the video cannot be analyzed, it is impossible to say how representative the footage is. It was clearly edited (and set to music) by Hizballah for this press conference. How much editing has occurred?
5.      Nasrallah openly spoke of the war “of public opinion”. It seems that his only objective here was to cast serious doubt on the Tribunal

Following the speech journalists asked Nasrallah questions. The overall atmosphere could be summed up in the following questions: “Who are you trying to convince?” The journalists were clearly confused as to how he expected them and, by extension, the general population to respond.

To his credit, Nasrallah didn’t duck the issue. He claimed that he was aware the “evidence” was circumstantial and that he was aiming to sway public opinion. Finally, he added that an independent investigation was needed.

After all the build-up I can’t help but feel that it fell a little flat. There was no compelling evidence. Sure, there’s certainly a case for investigating possible Israeli involvement, however, it’s far from clear. Nasrallah was asked why he didn’t show the video from the UAVs earlier, he claimed technical difficulties had prevented him from doing so.

I can’t help but feel that Nasrallah has made a mistake in his handling of this. The Lebanese were, depending on their political persuasion, awaiting clear evidence of Israeli involvement, or a pack of lies. They got neither.

However, then you recall Nasrallah’s statement: He claimed that he was aware the “evidence” was circumstantial and that he was aiming to sway public opinion.

This wasn’t about proof. It was about blowing the Tribunal out of the water. Mission accomplished. There will be enough doubt, and assumptions of Israeli involvement, among the Lebanese to achieve that.

However, the cost, in terms of his credibility outside of his constituency, might prove to be high.

There have been mixed responses, both in Lebanon and abroad, with some arguing that he had some degree of success, other claiming it fell flat.

Regardless, I think this snippet from Al Jazeera sums the situation up nicely:

Nasrallah unveils 'Hariri proof'
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has tried to implicate Israel in the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

Note the quote marks in the title, note the use of the word “tried” in the text.

The tribunal might be dead, but Nasrallah didn’t come off looking all that convincing.