Some four years before his murder, when he was still Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri angrily told me a story of his struggle with Hizbollah. We were walking in the garden of his Beirut palace at Qoreitem – he reasoned that, even though his phones were all tapped, the Syrians had probably not bugged the flower beds with listening devices – and his hands were shaking with rage.
“They wanted to bring some of their ‘martyrs’ who had died fighting the Israelis and bury them in front of the Beirut international airport,” he muttered. “Can you imagine what that would have meant? We want to show the world our new Beirut and the graves of Hizbollah members would be the first thing that every visitor to Lebanon would see. And once buried there, they could never be removed. I managed to stop it.”
“How?” I asked. But Hariri just flicked his right hand in the air dismissively. There must have been some compromise with Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the chairman of Hizbollah. He wouldn’t say.
Only Nasrallah now knows what that compromise was, because the airport is now renamed the Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport – for last year, he was to become the “martyr” associated with the gleaming new terminal and runways – and Nasrallah’s own followers are camping out in the centre of Beirut, less than 100 metres from Hariri’s grave, demanding the destruction of the elected government supported by Hariri’s own son Saad. Nasrallah’s son Hadi was killed in a suicidal attack on the Israelis before their withdrawal in 2000, and the Hizbollah leader – true to the necrology associated with his faith – insisted that he receive only congratulations, rather than condolences, for his son’s death in battle.