BEIRUT: Over the years, Rafik Hariri and Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah developed a friendship that was politically beneficial to both, according to Mustapha Nasser, a former aide to the late prime minister.
In his second day of testimony, Nasser told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that Hariri and Nasrallah “were able to build a real friendship” over the years.
The two leaders met, often in secret, throughout Hariri’s tenure as prime minister and worked through difficult political issues including the reconstruction of Downtown Beirut and the shooting of unarmed Hezbollah protesters by the Army under the airport bridge in September 1993. While difficulties arose, Nasser said that there were never any confrontations between the two leaders.
Nasser worked as an aide for Rafik Hariri, acting primarily as a liaison between the former prime minister and Hezbollah. He played a similar role for Saad Hariri, who succeeded his late father as head of the Future Movement in 2005, and said Thursday that he still maintains this post. But Saad Hariri’s office issued a statement Friday saying that Nasser was “terminated” in 2010 and is no longer employed as an adviser.
The relationship between the elder Hariri and Nasrallah became more engaged after the extension of President Emile Lahoud’s term and the adoption of Resolution 1559 by the United Nations Security Council in the fall of 2004, Nasser told the court.
While Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, Hariri adopted a liberal interpretation of the text and assured Nasrallah that Hezbollah would be able to maintain its military stockpile until a peace deal with Israel was signed.
Defense attorney Yasser Hassan, who represents the interests of one of the five Hezbollah members charged with plotting Hariri’s assassination, suggested that Hariri’s stance on 1559 put him squarely at odds with the Israelis.
Nasser agreed that Hariri’s cooperation with Nasrallah posed “a risk” to Israel, and admitted that the Jewish state had been responsible for a number of political assassinations in Lebanon’s history. The defense’s argument has yet to fully take shape, but allusions have been made to the possibility of Israeli involvement in the blast which killed Hariri and 21 others in February 2005.
Hariri and Nasrallah were on good terms in the days and weeks preceding the former’s death, Nasser testified. Just a few days before his assassination, Hariri conveyed to Nasrallah that he had personally appealed to French President Jacques Chirac to refrain from listing Hezbollah as a terror organization.
Nasser agreed with the defense counsel Hassan’s assessment that Hariri “used his international contacts in favor of Lebanon, including the resistance of Lebanon, represented by Hezbollah.”
The relationship, however, was not one sided. Hezbollah, Nasser said, was working to mend the relationship between Hariri and the Syrian regime. The day before Hariri’s assassination Nasrallah’s political aide Hussein Khalil traveled to Damascus to prepare for a meeting between Hariri and Syrian President Bashar Assad, Nasser told the court.
Nasser’s statements run contrary to the testimony of numerous witnesses who have appeared before the STL in recent months. All close allies of Hariri, almost all the so-called political witnesses have stressed the tense relationship between the late prime minister and Hezbollah.
Last month, MP Fouad Siniora testified that Hariri had uncovered multiple attempts on his life orchestrated by Hezbollah.
Nasser said that Hariri had “never heard” anything of that nature and questioned why Hariri would continue to meet with Nasrallah if he knew the group had plotted his murder.
Although he was called to testify by the prosecution, Nasser’s testimony seemed to bolster the defense’s position that Hariri and Hezbollah were not political enemies.
A source affiliated with the tribunal suggested that the prosecution had misjudged Nasser as a witness. “I think the prosecution didn’t know the guy very well,” the source told The Daily Star.
Throughout his testimony Nasser suggested on more than one occasion that the only individual who might have more knowledge about Hariri’s relationship with Hezbollah was Hariri’s widow, Nazik.