By Amir Taheri, Special to Gulf News
While the Lebanese army is fighting a new terrorist group under the label of Fatah Al Islam (Victory of Islam), the real causes of this bizarre battle may be found thousands of miles away in the UN in New York.
Talk to anyone familiar with the UN's investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and you will hear the same message: it is an open and shut case! And, yet some are stirring trouble, including the current fighting in northern Lebanon, to put the whole issue on the backburner.
Serge Brammertz, the European judge who heads the investigation, says he has more than enough evidence to initiate prosecution against those he has identified as suspects.
Brammertz's position is endorsed by Lebanon's democratically elected government of Prime Minister Faoud Siniora, and, if opinion polls are right, backed by more than 65 per cent of the Lebanese people.
And yet, the UN Security Council, which ordered the investigation soon after Hariri's murder in February 2005, is still undecided whether or not to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Like any classical murder enquiry, the investigation into Hariri's assassination had to establish three facts: motive, ability and opportunity.
Detlev Mehlis, Brammertz's predecessor in charge of the investigation, established the motive for the murder as early as the autumn of 2005.
Mehlis, whose interim report was copiously leaked, was forced out of his job under heavy pressure from Syria which, pointing to the fact that he was of Jewish extraction claimed that the judge was acting on behalf of "the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy".
Mehlis was less successful in providing evidence showing that Syria and its allies in the Lebanese secret services had both the ability and the opportunity to carry out the murder. It was clear that those who ordered the murder wanted to cover their tracks by injecting into what was a military operations elements of an amateurish exercise.
Hariri's murder set in motion the law of unintended consequences. The Lebanese were so outraged that, setting aside their communitarian differences, turned out en masse to demand that Syria end its 30-year long occupation of their country. In the general election that followed, the pro-Hariri block and its allies won a majority in the parliament and formed a government dedicated to bringing the murderers to justice.
Unable to stop the investigation, Syria, backed by Iran, tried to put the Lebanese politics on trajectories that would margin-alise the whole Hariri case. One tactic the Syrians deployed was to use Emile Lahoud, the president they had imposed on the Lebanese for a further three years, to paralyse the Siniora government.
Under the Lebanese constitution, laws passed by the parliament and senior appointments made by the government must receive the presidential assent in order to come into effect.
Prompted by the Syrians, Lahoud has been withholding his assent, effectively preventing the government from implementing the programme for which it was elected.
Lahoud's extended term will end later this year, depriving the Syrians of their veto within the Lebanese political system. But they have another card to pay: the Hezbollah and its Maronite ally ex-General Michel Aoun.
Once it had become clear that even a war with Israel would not stop the Hariri investigation, Syria, and its Khomeinist allies in Tehran, launched what amounted to an attempt at staging a coup through street politics.
Having failed to kill the Hariri investigation through war, street coup and targeted killing of opponents, those who do not want the truth to be fully established have switched to diplomacy as a way out.
The encounter between the United States' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Syrian counterpart Wahid Muallem in Egypt earlier this month was the first of many moves by Damascus to prevent the convening f the international tribunal on the Hariri murder.
Syria believes that the Hariri investigation was a pet project of the Bush administration and the French ex-president Jacques Chirac. Well, Chirac has already retied and Bush will soon be out of the White House.
Allowing such dilatory tactics to succeed, however, would have a deadly effect on the politics of the Middle East far beyond the particular case of Hariri. It would endorse state-sanctioned murder as a legitimate tool of politics, and deal a further blow to the United Nation's already shaky authority.
The Security Council has the moral and political duty to positively respond to the Lebanese government's demand and formally set up a tribunal that it promised more than two years ago.
Iranian author Amir Taheri is based in Europe.