Sunday, November 06, 2005

A few thoughts about the Mehlis report

Now that the initial dust has settled, here are a few thoughts about the Mehlis report:

1. First, as most observers have noted, the report did not identify any single suspect. Instead, it has hinted to several possible leads, with only fragments of proof here and there, and no material evidence a prosecutor can build a case on, as of yet.

2. There has been a lot of fuss in the media (especially western media) about the role played by Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, and hence about a possible involvement of the Syrian government. Particular emphasis was put on the short but tense meeting between then Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and Syrian President Bashar Assad, where Assad bluntly told Hariri that Lahoud's mandate was to be extended for an additional term, or else to be prepared to incur Syria's wrath. As a good friend of mine pointed out to me, all this happened in August 2004, and Hariri has backed from his position (which was never publicly known anyway) and bowed to Assad's demand, and Lahoud's extension passed. Now, here is my question: how do these events constitute a motive for the assassination ?

3. In fact, there is nothing new in these elements: any observer even remotely familiar with lebanese affairs knew before the Mehlis report that Syria had a lot of influence in Lebanon, to say the least. The fact that a Syrian official (in this case the deputy foreign minister) has lied to the Mehlis commission cannot reasonably be considered as tangible proof of official Syrian involvement in the assasination. As my friend told me: "What did you want the Syrians to say ? That "yeah, we interfered in Lebanease affairs..."? Or that "yeah, we were running the show behind the scenes"? Of course they lied, as all other powers do every single day... Is that a reason to invade or embargo a country? If it is then there are many western democracies which should be invaded and embargoed in the first place." He may not be totally wrong.

4. Obviously, Syria's involvement in Lebanon was well-known to western governments, but not to the western public at large. In constitutional democracies, a certain degree of public support is needed in case a war is to be waged. It thus appears that the Mehlis commission was set up so that Syria's abuses in the Lebanon could be exposed in western media for later use by the war propaganda machine.

5. Of course, the Syrian government is a brutal dictatorship, which is capable of acts worse than this one. Yet, in this particular case, a clear motive for syrian involvement is lacking. Syria has not benefited in any way from Hariri's murder, and it is somehow difficult to believe that the syrians, which have played their lebanese cards so intelligently in the past, may have (mis)calculated that they would reap any benefit from the crime. Of course, I am not trying to absolve the Syrians, but sometimes, one has to look for the culprit in the most unexpected places.

To read more:

Jihad al-Khazen, on the possible role played by the sect of the Ahbash: The International Investigation and Old Security Files

Hazem Saghieh, on how Baath's ideology has driven Syria to the current impasse: Sacrificing the Baath to Rescue Syria

Mohammad Sayed Saeed, on what might be next for Syria: اختيارات صعبة بعد تقرير ميليس

Abdulwahab Badr Khan: الجميع كان يعرف

Dawood Shirian, recounting a meeting with Syrian Defense Minister before he "commited suicide": This is how I saw Ghazi Kanaan

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