That Israel is a terrorist state and its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is a war-criminal are undeniable. The murder on January 24 of Elie Hobeika, himself one of the most notorious war-criminals in Lebanon, was almost certainly carried out by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Five other people, including two of Hobeika’s bodyguards, were also killed when a powerful bomb destroyed his car in the Hazmiyeh district of Beirut as he was leaving home. Television footage showed bloodstained bodies sprawled at the scene, with pistols and twisted metal scattered around, while firefighters put out fires that the explosion had started in nearby buildings.
Hobeika’s murder is a blow to efforts to indict Sharon for war crimes because of his role in the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut (September 1982). Sharon, Israel’s defence minister at the time, earned the title of Butcher of Beirut for his role in masterminding the invasion of Lebanon, in which more than 20,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed. This was followed, from September 14 to 16 by massacres at the two camps, in which thousands of Palestinian civilians were slaughtered. The Israeli army blocked all roads into and out of the camps while its Christian Phalangist allies carried out the killings.
The day before Hobeika’s murder a Belgian court had heard arguments from Sharon’s defence lawyers about his indictment as a war criminal. A law passed in Belgium in 1999 allows charges to be brought against people, including government officials, for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. Interestingly, Sharon’s lawyers had proposed that the trial be moved from Brussels to Beirut; the reason was probably the zionists’ confidence that they could eliminate troublesome witnesses more easily in Beirut than in Brussels. Hobeika’s murder confirms this point. After hearing arguments on January 23, the Belgian court announced that it would give a ruling on March 6.
Hobeika was commander of the Phalangist militia, an extremist Christian Lebanese force, that perpetrated the refugee-camp massacres after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Israeli troops had surrounded the camps at the time to prevent anyone from leaving, and they used flares to light up the area for the Phalangist gunmen. As Israel’s defence minister at the time, Sharon is reported to have authorised the killing of Palestinian refugees, few of whom survived the onslaught.
When a group of 23 survivors lodged a case against Sharon in a Belgian court last June, Hobeika issued a statement saying that he would be willing to take part in court proceedings against Sharon, which he said would help to prove his own “innocence”. Two days before his murder, Hobeika had reconfirmed to two visiting Belgian senators that he was willing to testify in the case. He requested that their meeting be kept secret because he had been threatened with death, but it was reported in the Lebanese media.
“We’ve obviously lost a key character in the story of Sabra and Shatila,” leading Lebanese lawyer Chibli Mallat told Reuters on January 24. Mallat and several Belgian and French lawyers are representing the Palestinian survivors.
Sharon’s office declined to comment on speculation that Israel was behind Hobeika’s murder. “We do not react to the issue of Elie Hobeika,” said David Baker, a spokesman for Sharon, on January 24. This matter-of-fact statement suggests complicity in the murder. In the past when Israel has perpetrated such crimes, it has often issued a terse one-sentence statement that neither denies nor acknowledges the act.
In Lebanon, however, there is almost complete unanimity that Mossad killed Hobeika to prevent him from giving evidence that would prove Sharon’s involvement in Sabra and Shatila. In 1983 an Israeli commission of inquiry, headed by Justice Kahan of the Israeli supreme court, found Sharon indirectly responsible for the Phalangist-perpetrated killings. Sharon was forced to resign as defence minister, only to re-emerge in another portfolio a few years later.
As intelligence chief of the Phalangists, Hobeika was closely involved with the Israelis, and could have shed much light on their activities. Hobeika had previously expressed fears that he could be killed by the them. His killing may have eliminated the one man who could have implicated Sharon directly.