UN-appointed German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis handed his report on the Hariri killing over to Kofi Annan, the Security Council’s 15 members, and the government of Lebanon today.
AFP was one of the first to see the newly-released text. It reported:
- “There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former prime minister Rafiq Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services,” the report said…
Citing “converging evidence” pointing at both Syrian and Lebanese involvement in what it described as a “terrorist act,” the report said: “The likely motive of the assassination was political.”
Syria, Lebanon’s long-time power broker, and its political allies in Lebanon had been widely accused of having had a hand in the killing, which plunged the nation into turmoil. Damascus has strenuously denied the allegations.
It [that is, the report] pointed out that Syrian military intelligence was well known to have had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at least until the withdrawal of Syrian forces in line with UN Security Council resolution 1559.
“Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge,” the report said.
“It is the commission’s conclusion that, after having interviewed witnesses and suspects in the Syrian Arab Republic and establishing that many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination, it is incumbent upon Syria to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions,” it added.
“While the Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, have cooperated to a limited degree… several interviewees tried to mislead the investigation,” it said.
It noted that a letter addressed to the Mehlis panel by Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara “proved to contain false information.”
The Mehlis report stressed the need for full Syrian cooperation if the investigation is to be completed…
France and the US are expected to introduce a draft resolution to respond to this report, early next week. By then, too, Terje Larsen should be presenting his report to the Security Council on the (separate) issue of whether Syria has complied with the portion of UNSC resolution 1559 that called for the disarmament of non-government forces in Lebanon (i.e. Hizbullah and the Palestinian militias in the camps in south Lebanon.)
Earlier today, Josh Landis was predicting an ugly standoff between Washington and Damascus:
- Washington wants a public and total Syrian climb down. In essence, it wants Syria to renounce its core ideology of Arabism. It wants Syria to concede that its regional policies and anti-American stand are wrong. In a sense it wants a public apology and mea culpa from Bashar. It wants him to take Syria on a 180 degree about-face, ideologically and strategically.
The Syrian government will probably refuse to do this. The Syrian opposition says the government will refuse because the government is too weak. Others claim the government is strong enough to weather sanctions. Still others suggest it is because the President’s and regime’s legitimacy is founded on Arab nationalist principles, thus it cannot abandon them without facing internal collapse. And there are other explanations. Perhaps the Syrian leaders really believe in their principles? Perhaps it is the Arab desire not to lose face and be publicly humiliated? Everyone has their pet theory, but most agree that it comes down to a clash of ideologies. Most insist things will have to get worse before they get better.
I agree with his basic assessment. John Bolton seems to be running quite a high proportion of the Bush administration’s policy towards Syria. He’s a tough nut, and has given clear signals to, e.g., Sharon’s government that it should not respond even to very conciliatory peace overtures from Damascus. From Bashar’s side, he is not a tough nut. But he’s boxed in by his own relatively weak position inside Syrian politics, and is in no position to “pull a Qadhafi” and start dancing to Washington’s tune.
Then, of course, there’s the uncomfortable prospect that any serious weakening of Bashar would open up more space in Syria not for the (relatively small in number, and disorganized) elements of the pro-liberalizing opposition, but for the militant Sunni-Islamist opposition, instead. Yes, Bashar “uses” this prospect quite frequently, to try to ward off too much pressure coming at him from washington or Paris. But yes, he is also, to a large extent a prisoner of it.
Since the Hariri killing, Bashar’s lost the “strategic defense” he used to have against his local Sunni-Islamists by virtue of his close political relationship with Saudi Arabia. Now, that relationship is considerably weakened. I think that makes the Sunni-Islamist threat that much greater to him.
Interesting days. Let’s hope and pray that Syria can avoid any breakdown into civil war. (When I was there last November, the one thing all the Syrians we talked to– liberal-opposition people and regime people– united on was that they sought if at all possible to avoid the fate of Iraq.)