Hezbollah 'Israel footage' fails to convince: experts

BEIRUT, Natacha Yazbeck- Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah's "evidence" implicating Israel in the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri has failed to sway his political rivals and left analysts divided over its impact.
"The press conference is likely part and parcel of a strategy of self-defence," Mustafa Alloush, a former MP and member of the Future Movement founded by Hariri, told AFP on Tuesday.

Hezbollah 'Israel footage' fails to convince: experts
"If the aim is to convince us of Israel's guilt, this evidence should be placed in the hands of the relevant authorities and jurisdiction."
At a Monday night press conference, Nasrallah produced several undated clips of aerial views of various areas in Lebanon, including the site of the Hariri assassination in mainly Sunni west Beirut several years prior to the murder.
Nasrallah, who has accused Israel of the February 14, 2005 bombing which killed Hariri and 22 others, said the footage was intercepted from unmanned Israeli MK surveillance drones.
He conceded the images were not conclusive proof but noted that his party -- which is believed to be constantly under surveillance by its arch-foe Israel -- had no offices, positions or presence in the areas surveyed.
Hariri's allies initially blamed Syria for his killing but Damascus has consistently denied the allegations.
Syria nonetheless withdrew its troops from Lebanon under international pressure in April 2005, ending a 29-year presence.
Nasrallah last month said he was aware the UN-backed tribunal on the Hariri murder, which is expected to issue an indictment this year, would indict members of his Syrian- and Iranian-backed party, slamming the probe as an Israeli project.
But his highly anticipated address Monday failed to live up to the expectations of the Lebanese and was at best received as circumstantial evidence -- and a show of counter-espionage prowess.
"No one took the evidence seriously or considered it objective," said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut.
"Nasrallah was simply addressing his public," Khashan told AFP. "He promised solid proof but instead offered new elements to support his rebuttal of the tribunal's credibility and request they start anew."
As'ad Abu Khalil, a political science professor at California State University at Stanislaus, said the event was "a great political show" that aimed to sway Arab public opinion.
"The expectations were high for the speech: in Lebanon, Hezbollah's enemies did not want anything less than pictures of Israelis pulling the triggers on Hariri. That was not provided," Abu Khalil wrote on his "Angry Arab" blog.
"Hezbollah did something entirely different in this press conference: it recaptured Arab political opinion... with images, and visual effects and background music and graphics."
But Fadia Kiwan, who heads the political science department at Saint Joseph University, said Nasrallah's revelation was "extremely dangerous."
"There is no conclusive evidence on the involvement of Israel but (Nasrallah presented) relevant arguments that make it inevitable that this hypothesis be seriously examined," she told AFP.
Nasrallah's statements have raised fears of a replay of the events of May 2008, when 100 people were killed in a week of fighting sparked by a government crackdown on the Shiite militant party's private communications network.
The government later repealed its decision.
The Shiite leader on Monday said he was willing to cooperate with the Lebanese government on the Hariri murder and present the cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, with his findings.
He refused to specify what measures Hezbollah would take should the UN tribunal implicate the Shiite party.
But a high-ranking government official, who requested his name be withheld, told AFP on Tuesday that he did not expect Hezbollah to take any drastic measures.
"The indictment will be issued by an international body so even withdrawing from the government would be a very artificial, contrived step that would cause problems here in Lebanon without presenting any corroboration of the evidence presented yesterday," the official said.
"Turning the table on the Lebanese government would seem to me taking Lebanon hostage and saying 'I'm threatening the international community that my own country will be paying the price'," he added.
"I don't expect that."
Israel on Tuesday dismissed Hezbollah's claims as "ridiculous."

Tuesday, August 10th 2010
Natacha Yazbeck

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