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Mehlis Report fingers Syria, Lebanese officials for Hariri Assassination


By now the whole world knows that UN investigator Detlev Mehlis has produced an interim report on the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri. Hariri was killed on February 14, 2005 when a huge explosion occurred in his motorcade.

It was clear that the assassination was due to Hariri's opposition to the imposition of pro-Syrian President Lahoud on the Lebanese people, against their will.

The assassination touched off a wave of Lebanese patriotism. Everyone who had eyes to see and a mind to think concluded that Syria or Syrian agents had to be behind the explosion, though the usual evil-minded people tried to blame "Zionists" and Israel.

At the time, I had written:

The huge explosion had the marks of the masterful Syrian intelligence. This esteemed group's last major contribution to good government in Lebanon was probably assisting in the assassination of Bashir Gemayel in 1982. If not Syria, then perhaps one of the parties beholden to Syria is responsible for the assassination, with technical assistance from Syria. Bashir, in turn, had been elected with generous "help" from a different neighbor, Israel. What are neighbors for, after all?

These very obvious conclusions were not to the liking of would-be experts who insisted that I could not know anything about Lebanon. The obvious truth is hard to accept when it conflicts with what you desperately want to believe. However, most Lebanese were not deceived. It did not require an expert to see the hand of Syria in the explosion.

According to the Mehlis report, the Syrians fabricated a supposed Islamist organization and a hapless culprit, one Abu-Adass, who "took credit" for the hit, and pro-Syrian Lebanese authorities tried to finger some Muslims who had travelled to Australia, but none of this convinced anyone except the most gullible.

The UN and the USA didn't do very much about Syria, but for once, the Lebanese did. Huge demonstrations ensured relatively free elections and forced Bashar Assad to withdraw his troops from Lebanon. The UN went through the motions, but it was the Lebanese people who did the work of liberating themselves. They begun the job, but they haven't finished yet.

Mehlis's team concluded:

1. The Abu Adass videotape claiming "credit" for the assassination was faked - probably in Syria.

Conclusion: There is no evidence that Mr. Abu Adass belonged to the group al nasra wal-jihad fee bilad Al-Sham as claimed in the Al-Jazeera videotape, nor even that such a group has ever existed or does exist now. There are no indications (other than the videotape) that he drove a truck containing the bomb that killed Hariri. The evidence does show that it is likely that Mr. Abu Adass left his home on 16 January 2005 and was taken, voluntarily or not, to Syria, where he has since disappeared.

2. The explosion was probably due to a truck and was not an underground explosion as previously speculated: (This idea was widely circulated in Lebanon. See photo evidence provided as "proof" that the explosion that killed Hariri took place underground )

Conclusion: The explosion that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others took place above ground. For this purpose, an amount of no less than 1000 kilgrams of military explosives was used.

3. Syrian and Lebanese governments were probably involved in the crime:

Conclusion: There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, could not have been taken without the approval of top ranked Syrian security official and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services.

4. Evidence was tampered with

d) A few hours after the explosion took place, around 2300 hrs, major evidence was removed from the crime scene....

e) A bulldozer was introduced into the crime scene on the day of the explosion, 14 February 2005, in the evening for no justifiable reason. As soon as the Minister of Interior and Municipalities got knowledge of it, he gave orders to retrieve it and preserve the crime scene as it was.


142. The weaknesses in the initial measures taken by the Lebanese authorities and the tampering with evidence during the first crime scene examination have worked against identifying the type of explosives used in the blast...

5. Lebanese authorities were negligent in investigating the crime

The negligence of the Lebanese authorities to undertake proper investigative measures and a full-scale professional crime scene examination immediately after the blast has made it difficult to resolve key questions regarding the execution of the bombing...

6. At a meeting in Damascus, Bashar Assad told Hariri that if Chirac wants Syria to leave Lebanon, he (Assad) will break Lebanon over your head, and threatened to blow up Hariri

...He reported President Assad saying to him: "I will break Lebanon on your head and Jumblat's head." Ghazi Areedi, witness statement of 1 July 2005:

"Mr. Hariri reported to us that President Assad told him: "My choice is Emile Lahoud for President. I will make sure he is the President. I will wait for your answer. (...) Tell Walid Jumblat that if he has Druze people in Lebanon, I also have a Druze community in Syria. I am ready to do anything."Walid Joumblatt, witness statement of 28 June 2005: " According to Mr. Hariri, Assad told him:"Lahoud is me. I want to renew his mandate."

[Assad:](...) If Chirac wants me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon. (...)" Jubran Tueni, witness statement of 25 June 2005:

"...President Assad added that in that case they, the Syrians, would 'blow him up' and any of his family members and that they would find them anywhere in the world." Bassem Sabaa, witness statement of 30 June 2005:

"When Mr. Hariri came back from his meeting with President Assad, I met him at Walid Jumblat’s house." (...) "He reported to us President Assad's words who has put it bluntly: "I am personally interested in this matter. It is not about Emile Lahoud but about Bashar Assad".

7. Hariri was under under surveillance for at least a month prior to the assassination:

141. ...UNIIIC determined that Mr. Hariri was under surveillance at least one month prior to the blast, by people planning the crime .

8. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Ashara lied about the nature of the above meeting.

General Ghazali told the Commission that Mr. Hariri told him that President Assad referred to Mr. Hariri as a "friend," and described a cordial, respectful meeting in which President Assad consulted Mr. Hariri on the matter.

The report fingered Bashar Assad's brother in law, Assef Shawkat, as responsible for abducting Abu Adass and making a fabricated videotape, 15 days before the assassination, in which Abu Adass took credit for the deed. This tape was released at the appropriate time.

Mehlis also noted:
25. The Commission's investigation has confirmed what many in Lebanon have long asserted, that senior Syrian intelligence officials had a powerful day-to-day and overall strategic influence on the governance of Lebanon.

"You don't say." It should not have required the acuteness of a Sherlock Holmes and the resources of a UN investigation team to reach that conclusion. For almost thirty years, the UN, the EU, the Arab League and the US acquiesced in the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Even after the Syrians stepped in in the 1980s and virtually took over the country, everyone pretended that Lebanon was still an independent country. They looked the other way while Syria virtually annexed "sister" Lebanon for fun and profit.

Given the time that elapsed between the deed and the institution of the UN commission of inquiry, it is not surprising that all of the evidence gathered by the UNIIIC is circumstantial. It was unlikely that Syrian intelligence and their allies would leave any tracks, and the obliteration of evidence and obstruction of justice reported by Mehlis was to be expected. Nor is it likely that Detlev Mehlis and his team will gather any more than circumstantial evidence before the final extended deadline of December 15. It may not be possible to conclusive Syrian government complicity in the murder of Hariri. It doesn't require a forensics expert however, to understand that the Syrian government has been meddling in Lebanese affairs and continues to do so, and that the Syrian government is badly in need of reform.

Syria is unrepentant. The Mehlis report details a series of bombings that have assassinated and injured Syrian opponents in Lebanon, including journalist Samir Kasir and news anchor May Chidiac. Their allies, the Hizbollah, organized a huge pro-Syria demonstration last March and have made their sympathies to "sister" quite plain. Syria packed Lebanese refugee camps with pro-Syrian Palestinian "activists" from Syrian puppet groups, causing the Lebanese army to ring the camps with tanks and alarming Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas. As for the report, Syrian propaganda dismissed it:

Syrian satellite TV quoted Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah as saying that "the report is 100 percent politicized as it is based on fabrications and accounts of some witnesses known for being enemies of our country."

Describing the report, composed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, as an unprofessional political statement, Dakhlallah said that the findings of the probing "is part of a large-scale campaign against our country."

Earlier, Dakhlallah told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television that Mehlis' report "lacks proper evidence and testimonies since it was compiled in a way to serve the parties and individuals who intentionally wanted to accuse Syria of Hariri's assassination."

The report will be officially considered in the UN this week. The US has its own agenda regarding Syria, which has been less than cooperative regarding support for the Iraqi insurgency. The US is expected to call for strong sanctions, but it is doubtful whether any effective action will be taken. "Regime change" in Syria is not a realistic option. Following the Iraq debacle, the United States is hopefully a bit wiser and more realistic about the limitations of armed force. Before galloping off on another crusade for democracy, the US must consider carefully how the crusade might end. As bad as the Assad regime might be, the replacement is more likely be a regime of Islamist radicals or a Sunni Baathist dictatorship than a Jeffersonian democracy.

Rafiq Hariri's son, Saad, is a Lebanese parliamentarian who chooses to live in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, no doubt because the "climate" is healthier. He has called for trial of the accused inviduals in an international court. This would be a good idea if conclusive evidence can be gathered against anyone. Unfortunately, the Mehlis investigation has found mostly circumstancial evidence and reports from witnesses about threats. The witnesses are undoubtedly biased, and threats are not sufficient evidence for conviction of a crime in court. If the accusations cannot be proven in court, a trial might give the accused a false clean bill of health.

In anticipation of the report, and in the light of increasing US pressure on Syria, Syrian officials have gulled some people who should know better with unlikely professions of their pacific and innocent intentions. Professor Alon Ben-Meir writes:

...time and again, the Syrians have made overtures to the United States for the two nations to engage in meaningful dialogue, only to be rebuffed by an administration fixated on regime change in Syria.
...the administration must defuse the conflict with Syria by opening a dialogue with Damascus. Threats and intimidation will work with Syria only up to a point. President Bashar Assad would not last another day in power if he caved in to American pressure, especially after his surrender of Lebanon.

Poor Syria. Aren't we all sorry for poor Mr. Assad? Professor Ben-Meir tells us that the Syrians are really anxious to clean up their act and make peace:

Syria is eager to normalize relations with the United States, because the government there knows that much of the country's economic development and national security considerations, and certainly its hopes for recovering the Golan Heights, depend on U.S. willingness to help. Syria is eager to have an open-ended dialogue with the United States that will serve their mutual interests.

In the best of all possible worlds, the above might be true. In the Middle East, however, it is dangerous to replace facts with wishful thinking or to confuse what ought to be with what is. Professor Ben-Meir should know better then to believe all the fairy tales woven by officials of a regime like that of Mr. Assad. So much for "experts." According to reports studiously ignored by Ben Meir and other cheerleaders lined up in the Syrian camp, the US has offered Syria a "Ghaddafi style deal" quite similar to what Ben-Meir suggests, but Syria refused it. "Engagement" was tried apparently. It should be tried again, but the chances of success seem to be poor at this point. Syria didn't get the message yet.

Another "expert" opninion is voiced by Musa Keilani in the Jordan Times. Never mind that Bashar Assad's brother in law (and perhaps his brother as well) and the highest Syrian officials are implicated. Keilani and others are still insisting that Syria had nothing to do with the assassination. For those who won't believe that one, they are busy fabricating a myth that the assassination was the work of "rogue elements" in the Syrian government. Keilani wrote:

One cannot rule out the possibility that rogue elements in Syria could have played a role in the Hariri killing. However, conventional wisdom, coupled with Syria's awareness of the fact that it is vulnerable to American pressure, indicates that the Assad regime could not have been party to the murder.

More like conventional stupidity than "conventional wisdom." Conventional wisdom indicated that Saddam Hussein would not antagonize the West and the Arab countries by invading Kuwait, so maybe that didn't happen either. The will to believe what you want to believe is very strong, and there is no lack of "experts" who are shameless enough to exploit it. There is also an abundance of people who confuse the Syrian issue with opposition to the war in Iraq. Their "conventional wisdom" is that if the Bush administration is against Syria, they must rally to the support of the Assad regime.

The Lebanese have begun the work of liberating themselves from foreign domination and restoring democratic rule. Only they can really finish the job. As for the Syrians, they should consider the example of the Lebanese people. Right now there is no serious opposition in Syria or among Syrian expatriates. It is doubtful if anyone except the US government takes Mr. Farid Gahdry's Reform Party of Syria seriously. Granted, it is may be difficult to initiate reform in a regime like that of Mr. Assad, and perhaps international pressure will help in this regard. Of course, the prospect of yet more foreign meddling in Middle Eastern affairs is justifiably unpalatable to many in the Middle East. However, the way to avoid such interference is not to make believe that "sister" Syria is wonderful and that all the agitation is the fault of the United States warmongers, the "neocons" and the "Zionists." Instead of spreading fables about the shining innocence of the Syrian government, those who don't want the US poking its nose in the business of the Middle East should be busy encouraging the Arab League to exert its influence on Syria.

Ami Isseroff
PS: The full text of the Mehlis Report in HTML format is at http://www.mideastweb.org/mehlis_report.htm.
This version has restored to it all the substantive cuts made in the final version.

It seems that in earlier versions, Mehlis gave names of suspects, while in later drafts, names were removed. The text of the final version discusses the role of Assef Shawkat, but some other names have apparently been omitted. This text was restored - and the restored passages are indicated.

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Replies: 1 Comment

It would not be in Israel’s interests to interfere with the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. The US experience in Iraq and in Afghanistan should send out warning signals to the world as to the mess that the US is capable of making.

As ineffectual and autocratic as the Assad regime is in Syria, the alternative would be far worse. While it is true that Syria is harbouring terrorists, the situation has not reached uncontrollable proportions. While the Mehlis Report does lay the blame for Rafik Hariri’s assassination on the intrigues of the Assad regime, it still does not warrant US aided toppling of that regime.

The border between Israel and Syria is relatively quiet. If the US moves in militarily, this situation could easily change with suicide militias, car bomb squads and Al Qaeda terror cells becoming active and chaos would rein supreme. The violence could spill over into Israel and Lebanon. The actions of Hezbollah would be child’s play in comparison. Nothing good could come out of US military action in Syria. If there would be a united, progressive opposition to the Bashar Assad Ba’ath regime, perhaps these opposition groups could be aided by foreign powers to take over and it would be in US interests to play a low key in such a potential operation. The opposition to the Assad regime is composed of extremist Islamist groups whose potential for violence is far greater and its global ramifications for further instability in the Middle East cannot be ruled out. The US does not seem to learn from its past mistakes, she will bumble along leaving US soldiers behind in all the countries that she wishes to police in order to create a western-style democracy which is not part of Middle Eastern lexicon but is seen as a foreign, non-Moslem import.

Economic sanctions, authorized by the UN, would be the best tactic at this stage in the hope to cripple Syria economically thus forcing a positive regime change from within is the best tactic for the moment. Western-style democracy propped up by the US is naivety at its greatest and shows ignorance of the Arab psyche. US paternalism is not a desired commodity in the Middle East.

While there are some Syrian progressive opposition groups living in exile who do pay lip service to democratic change in Syria, there is no way of ascertaining their influence on the Syrian people. It would be premature at this stage to hold high expectations of the progressive Syrian opposition which could be an alternative to the oppressive Ba’ath regime. Perhaps a parallel situation did exist prior to the downfall of Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Today these opposition groups are marginal and it had no influence in the attempt to rebuild Iraq in the post Iraq era.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 10/25/2005 09:52 AM CST

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