Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spinning a Saudi Tale of al-Hassan’s Assassination
Hassan Illeik, al-Akhbar, Nov 6 2012
Al-Akhbar responds to allegations of distortion and fabrication in its report on the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan. A reporter from the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat has difficulties believing that Israel or al-Qaeda could even be potential suspects in Hassan’s killing.On Nov 1, the pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat ran an article by Abdul-Rahman al-Rashed, director of the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya satellite channel, titled “Hezbollah and Wissam Hassan’s assassination.” The article was written in response to a report published in al-Akhbar on Oct 30 2012, titled “Wissam al-Hassan: A Man Who Had Many Enemies.” In his article, Rashed accused this reporter of having distorted and fabricated information regarding the suspects in Hassan’s killing. These were the very same suspects Hassan himself feared were planning to assassinate him, as he had reportedly stated in private meetings prior to his death. These suspects included Hezbollah, Syria, Israeli intelligence services, and al-Qaeda. Of course, Rashed decided to ignore the first two possibilities, namely Hezbollah and Syria (both were mentioned in al-Akhbar’s report). It seems that he was more offended by the possibility that Israel and al-Qaeda could have been considered possible suspects in the assassination. Rashed posed a question that many would consider obvious:Why would Israel assassinate a courageous security investigator who dared to reveal Hezbollah and Syria’s crimes?
But the question is a ridiculous one, and we thought Rashed would never embarrass himself by asking it. After all, he is a prominent writer in one of the most-widely read mouthpieces of the House of Saud, a standard bearer of pro-Wahhabi liberalism in the Arab world. In addition, he runs the second most frequently watched Arab-language political TV network. Rashed’s question thus takes us back to square one, or to arguing in defense of Wissam Hassan. Indeed, his question reflects claims made by hardliners within Hezbollah and Syria’s camp that Hassan was essentially a tool of the US and Israel. These hardliners maintain that the arrests of Israeli spy rings in Lebanon by the Internal Security Forces Information Branch were merely ploys to polish its image. But this is simply not true. The Information Branch dismantled a very large number of Israeli spy networks over the past five years, not only in Lebanon, but also in Syria.There was a time when Rashed could have asked Bashar al-Assad about this himself, when the Saudi columnist was on very friendly terms with the Syrian president, and would meet with him frequently. At the time, the Information Branch’s successes, along with those of Lebanese army intelligence and Hezbollah’s counterespionage unit, dealt a serious blow to Israeli intelligence services, even though the first few arrests had tipped the enemy off that its methods in Lebanon and Syria had been exposed. The officer in charge of handling human resources in the Israeli military intelligence committed suicide as a result of this major failure, and certainly not because of anything Saudi intelligence did. Speaking of Saudi intelligence, Rashed can also ask its senior leaders about the information gathered so far in the course of the investigation into Hassan’s assassination. He could even ask Bandar bin Sultan while he’s at it, for Bandar, the director general of the Saudi Intelligence Agency, has a long history of carrying out assassinations. In 1985, Bandar’s grudge against the Resistance pushed him to stain his hands with the blood of innocents in Lebanon when he volunteered to finance the attempt on the life of Sayyid Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. The failed operation killed more than 80 civilians in the Beirut neighborhood of Bir al-Abed.Regarding al-Qaeda’s possible involvement, the director of al-Arabiya can consult his friends at Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s intelligence services in Abu Dhabi, which had sent warnings to Hassan at the beginning of this year about a plan to assassinate a senior officer in the ISF. The Emiratis designated a specific area where the assassination would take place, and it happens that this area covers the location where Hassan was assassinated last month. The UAE intelligence services even surprised Hassan by mentioning his secret home, before telling him that their intelligence indicated the plot was going to be carried out by an al-Qaeda affiliated group based in the Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp. It is not quite clear why Rashed would categorically deny any involvement by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, unless he believes these groups are the legitimate offspring of the Saudi regime. There is no question that Rashed wants to downplay any account that runs contrary to what “His Highness” decided happened.For the sake of Rashed’s credibility, we must draw his attention to what the Director General of the ISF, Maj-Gen Ashraf Rifi, stated in the aftermath of Hassan’s assassination. Rifi, in the eyes of Rashed, is of course not among those trying to spread disinformation about the assassination. Rifi said that there were four possible motives behind the slaying of Hassan: the arrest of former minister Michel Samaha; the dismantling of the Israeli spy networks; the arrest of terrorist cells linked to al-Qaeda and its affiliates; or what Rifi called “a fifth column.” Ultimately, what is most bizarre about this is that the man who is accusing us of lying is the director of a television network which, as no doubt he is aware, lacks any credibility. For instance, in 2010, when Rashed wanted to peddle the claim that Hezbollah had assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri in a documentary titled A Crime in Beirut, which was produced by his London-based company, he tried to have it aired on al-Jazeera and other networks because he knew no one would believe al-Arabiya.

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