Across the Bay

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Syria and the Mehlis Vise

The BBC is giving an open forum for Syrian Ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, to blurt out the typical official Syrian stupidities (that they mistake for intelligence). They also had him on "Have Your Say" (audio link on the right), which pandered to all the conspiracy mongerers, including a bizarre and pathetic comment by Josh Landis, that itself lent some legitimacy to this nonsense.

The story is the same, with your Bush-bashing and Israel-bashing, and Khiyami's Mehlis-bashing (how comes he didn't investigate Israel's role, Khiyami wonders!?), which is followed by the tyical pseudo-"logical" arguments that the Syrian officials are addicted to, and mistake for intelligence (cf. Sharaa's tirade at the UNSC). For more, see Feris Khishen's column today. But let me say this: if this is Syria's "strategy," they're in deep trouble.

Michael Young's op-ed touches on this issue, and suggests that it is Mehlis who will have the last laugh:

Syrian frustration is understandable. For a regime that has for so long been spared serious questioning by the international community, the truth is hard to deal with. For a leadership that had manipulated and disparaged the Lebanese for decades, it is no easy thing seeing the tables turned, so that today it is Syria that finds itself being ruthlessly played by the unassuming Detlev Mehlis, whose strategy has proven far more intricate and subtle than anyone - present company included - anticipated.

The fact is (as Ammar Abdulhamid correctly writes on this page), Mehlis is using his October 20 report as a battering ram against the Syrian citadel. As one rereads the document, it becomes evident that what were initially regarded as elisions damaging to Mehlis' case were in fact efforts by the investigator to hide his cards, while saying just enough to get an extension and corner the Syrians. Conversely, what was published in the report was intended to send various messages. That not only explains why the names of Maher Assad and Assef Shawkat were made visible when the "track changes" option was activated in the initial Word document released by Mehlis; it also clarifies publication of a conversation between an undisclosed senior Lebanese official (otherwise easily identifiable) and Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Rustom Ghazaleh. While the public was eager to know the identity of the official, Mehlis' real point was that he had in his possession recordings of sensitive conversations.
If this overall interpretation is correct, Mehlis enjoys the sport of uncovering crimes, and of having the last laugh. The likelihood is that he has created so perfect a vise with which to squeeze the Syrians and their Lebanese acolytes, that the Assad regime can only cooperate in what, to it, would be a suicidal venture. That's why the Syrians may ultimately refuse to do so, and why Detlev Mehlis may be home for Christmas, the Hariri assassination behind him. But don't bet on it, because just as you confidently strut in one direction, he has already taken you in another.

Khiyami should take note. His statements weren't just repugnant, incredibly stupid, and hilariously pathetic, but they were also utterly predictable and standard. Ammar Abdulhamid had something to say about Syria's miserable performance:

The resolution also gives UN investigator Detlev Mehlis the ability to call for the detention of Syrian suspects pending further inquiry. As such, the recent move by Syrian President Bashar Assad to form a Syrian investigative committee seems to have come too late. The international community has chosen to once again empower Mehlis.

These developments, however, have been all too predictable. Indeed, for years now political analysts, Syrian opposition figures, dissidents and international observers have been telling Assad that the best way for Syria to normalize its strained relations with the international community is through implementation of widespread and genuine political reform. They have argued that the current structure of the regime and the balance of power within it are major obstacles to effective change. Without a major shakeup, they warned, the crisis confronting the regime since the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003 was bound to deepen.

Ammar adds:

In making up his mind on the next steps, Assad needs to consider that the Mehlis report was only a preliminary document prepared for the sake of getting an extension of the UN probe and securing Syrian cooperation. Mehlis did not put everything he had in the report and did not divulge all the pieces of evidence. This includes more taped conversations with Syrian officials, both alive and recently dead, as well as testimony by more credible witnesses whose identity still needs to be protected.

Therefore, the extension that Detlev Mehlis has acquired and the fact that the UN resolution avoided imposing sanctions against the Syrian regime, at least for the moment, will serve as convenient devices allowing Assad one final opportunity to show everyone his real face and colors. Neither Syria nor its ruler can afford to waste another opportunity.

Judging from the Syrian Investigative Commission charade, Sharaa's tirade, Khiyami's blather, and as Rime Allaf notes (Mon., Oct. 31), the Syrian Ambassador to the UAE's remarks on Al-Jazeera (accusing, like Khiyami, the Mossad of the murder), it seems the Syrians are sticking to their brilliant "strategy."