A UN tribunal vindicated Hezbollah leadership of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The ruling, delivered Tuesday, was the result of a 15-year investigation and deliberation.

Breaking Point

Although the group largely escaped blame, Hezbollah member Salim Jamil Ayyash was found guilty in the murder. Despite the fact that the tribunal’s conclusion was undoubtedly a victory for the group, it may do more harm than good. That is because the Lebanese people wanted justice.

“The trial chamber is of the view that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri and his political allies, however there is no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement,” said Judge David Re, summarizing the 2,600-page verdict.

The ruling came during Lebanon’s darkest moment since it shook free from Syria in 2005. The state is presently overcome with political turmoil. Economic problems made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, an accidental explosion at Beirut’s port, and widespread protests have all collided this year to make the state ripe for political change.

The Lebanese population has reached its breaking point, and although the government resigned, more must be done to turn the nation around. That could entail casting aside Hezbollah figures who have pulled the strings in Beirut.

Providing a ‘Trigger’

Hezbollah has wielded massive political power, recently enjoying a majority coalition in parliament. President Michel Aoun has also been sympathetic to its cause, according to US News & World Report. Therefore, the group must share the blame for the Lebanon’s recent failures.

It is also a major reason international actors refuse to bailout Beirut. They view Hezbollah as a leech on Beirut’s budget. The US and International Monetary Fund previously conditioned financial aid on stricter oversight and control of how the money would be spent, fearing Hezbollah would use the moment to enrich itself.

The events of the past year have steadily increased in severity and no solutions have come out of Beirut. However, the tribunal’s ruling could be the start of something new for Lebanon. While it did clear Hezbollah’s leadership, someone must take the fall, both for the murder of Hariri and for Beirut’s present difficulties.

The ruling might have delivered the solution, an outlet for pent-up anger and fury, as Reuters reported.

“I fear this (the tribunal verdict) could provide a trigger. The country, which is already divided, will become more polarised along sectarian lines as opposed to political and ideological lines,” said Fawaz Gerges, Middle East expert at the London School of Economics.

Reactions to the Verdict Were Swift and Decidedly Anti-Hezbollah

Anger at the verdict was expressed by many Lebanese who were astounded at the result of the tribunal, which cost nearly $1 billion.

“I’m very disappointed, like many Lebanese,” Ahmad Sayed said of the verdict. “Fifteen years we waited for this verdict and it was very weak. We don’t like this decision.”

Hariri’s son, Saad, also commented on the ruling saying, “Hezbollah is the one that should make sacrifices today. I repeat: we will not rest until punishment is served.”

Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US joined a chorus of voices condemning the verdict. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Hezbollah “operatives do not freelance” and used the ruling as justification that the group is a terrorist organisation. Israel’s Foreign Ministry accused it of taking “hostage of the future of the Lebanese” to do Iran’s bidding and Saudi Arabia called for proper punishment.

“More and more countries will likely view Hezbollah as a paramilitary terrorist organisation,” Gerges said, suggesting the tribunal’s verdict will backfire on Hezbollah. 

A Different Future

The group will find it harder to rule in the future as it continues to become an increasingly common target to blame for Lebanon’s problems. It was already inevitable that Hezbollah would lose some support and political power as Beirut navigates its way through the crises, but the tribunal verdict assures the people have something concrete to direct their anger toward.

“What Hezbollah doesn’t understand about the port explosion, the outcry, the protests, is that people view it as the latest manifestation of the corrupt elite and they hold Hezbollah responsible for safeguarding this elite,” Gerges said.

Hezbollah’s troubles are amplified as Iran is no longer able to fund it as it once did. Furthermore, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, took a hard stance on protesters following the Beirut explosion, essentially threatening to put down demonstrations by force.

That kind of response is not a hallmark of a group with Lebanon’s best interests in mind, but of an organisation fighting to save its political power. Hezbollah will not disappear overnight, but its power is likely to start to wane. 

Lebanon is facing a crisis from every direction and the ruling that was supposed to deliver justice 15 years after the fact left Lebanon empty-handed instead. Someone must pay for that and all the better if it’s Hezbollah.

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