Hariri exonerates Syria over father's murder
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri this week put an end to an
ongoing saga in his country's relationship with Syria, saying that the Syrians
had not killed his father, Rafik al-Hariri, on that fateful day on February 14,
Those accusations, he noted, had been "political" adding, "We committed
mistakes and were hasty in accusing Syria." Hariri added that bilateral
relations between Syria and Lebanon were "historic and brotherly" and what
harmed one country, by default, directly harmed the other.
He said that when visiting Damascus, he always felt he is in a "brotherly and
friendly country". The thundering declaration, made during an interview with
the Saudi daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, has
ripped through Beirut like a forest fire and left a big smile on the face of
Hariri's u-turn speaks volumes about what happened in Syrian-Lebanese relations
over the past five years, and in the entire Middle East at large: conspiracy,
fraud, and plenty of political manipulation.
Hariri, young and politically inexperienced at the time of his father's death
in 2005, aged only 35, was made to believe that Syria was guilty of killing his
father, who was killed when a bomb ripped through his motorcade as it drove
past the St George Hotel in the Lebanese capital.
A team of veteran politicians surrounding Hariri, headed by men like Druze
leader Walid Jumblatt, former premier Fouad Siniora and former Telecoms
minister Marwan Hamadeh, wanted him to believe, for political reasons, that
Syria had killed their former patron.
Many took their cue from the George W Bush White House, whose relations with
Damascus had plummeted after the war on Iraq in 2003. They reasoned that with
Syrian-Saudi relations in turbulence, and Syrian-US relations reaching rock
bottom, it was politically unwise to stand in the way of what Bush wanted for
the Middle East.
The young Hariri, furious with the murder, seemingly swallowed the bait
presented to him by trusted aides of his father and spearheaded a campaign
against Damascus, which lasted until he became prime minister last December.
Today, five years down the road, Hariri has clearly matured, outgrowing the
small group of politicians who helped bring him to power in 2005. He has proven
to be a wise man, realizing that there is something fishy about the
International Tribunal established to investigate his father's murder, given
the resignation of judges in recent months.
A tremendous amount of false witnesses have also turned up over the years, and
contrary to what the Hariri family wanted - a clean judicial investigation -
the tribunal has been politicized by various international players.
Thanks to Saudi advice, Hariri is beginning to ask questions put forth by both
Syria and Hezbollah since day one. Namely: why has there been no investigation
into possible Israeli involvement? And why did Detlev Mehlis, the first
commissioner of the United Nations-backed tribunal process, base his October
2005 report on the testimony of false witnesses?
The original Mehlis report read like an Agatha Christie crime novel, with
imaginative stories of Syrian officials meeting at the Meridian Hotel in
Damascus to plan the murder of Hariri. It added that a Mitsubishi van had been
loaded with explosives in broad daylight, with no cover, at the summer resort
of Zabadani, then sent to Beirut to carry out the attack.
Those reports have been completely discarded by all prosecutors who succeeded
Mehlis in the Hariri probe, including the current chief judge, Daniel
Bellemare. None of these witnesses have ever been arrested or brought to court
and several of them, like central witness Zuhair al-Siddiq, have disappeared
under the watchful eyes of the international community.
Also, why is that the four generals arrested in 2005, accused back them of
involvement in the murder, were released four years later, declared innocent of
the charges originally brought against them by the Hariri investigation? What
kind of an investigation is this, Hariri suddenly seems to be asking himself.
Hariri reportedly is starting to see the tribunal, and his father's entire
murder, as part of a large conspiracy targeting his country's relations with
Syria. This is being repeated by those close to him, namely Walid Jumblatt, who
did his own u-turn earlier in 2010, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was
opposed to internationalizing the Hariri affair from the start.
The King of Saudi Arabia is clearly no longer convinced that Syria had anything
to do with the Hariri murder. Had he thought otherwise, simply, he would not
have mended his country's relations with Syria in early 2009 and made two state
visits to Damascus since then.
The same applies to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who charted a new course
with Syria after succeeding Jacques Chirac, one of the architects of the "Blame
it on Syria scenario". Bush has left the White House, and his successor, Barak
Obama, is clearly no longer interested in pursuing a crash course with Syria,
vis-a-vis the Hariri affair.
For all practical purposes, the Hariri saga, as far as blaming it on Syria, is
finally over. Neither the world community believes that Syria had anything to
do with the case anymore, nor does the international tribunal, and nor does
Hariri's own family.
It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the Hariri affair is over,
given increased speculation that the upcoming indictment, originally earmarked
for this September, will blame members of Hezbollah, Syria's prime ally in
Lebanon, of the Hariri murder.
Hariri after all said that Syria was not guilty of killing his father, but said
nothing about Hezbollah in his al-Sharq al-Awsat interview. As far as Syria is
concerned, pleased as it may be by the Lebanese premier's recent statements,
blaming Hezbollah is a red line that Syria will not tolerate.
It is as dangerous blaming Hezbollah as Syria. Contrary to what some in the
West may believe, a trade-off with the Syrians is not an option for Damascus,
which is firmly convinced of Hezbollah's innocence.
During the most recent summit in Beirut, Saudi Arabia pushed for postponement
of the tribunal indictment, while Syria called for complete abolishment of the
tribunal, because it had been "catastrophic" for Syria and Lebanon. Whatever
transpires in that regard requires a lot of heavyweight diplomacy, by the
Syrians, Saudis and Lebanese, and at this stage all options remain on the table
on what direction the tribunal will take.
If Syria had nothing to do with the Hariri murder, then who exactly killed the
Lebanese premier? The Syrians and Hezbollah believe that Israelis murdered
Hariri. Another theory says Hariri was murdered by al-Qaeda-style terrorists. A
third argument blames it on different players within Lebanon, who wanted to get
rid of the Sunni heavyweight who had prevented the rise of anybody in Beirut
politics who was not operating underneath his direct umbrella.
A fourth argument blames it on Hezbollah. A fifth - and the most probable - is
that we will never know for sure who really killed Hariri, due to the
complexity of the crime and the involvement of so many different and
contradicting accomplices. That would place the affair side-by-side with
classic mysteries like the murder of former US president John F Kennedy.
Forty-seven years down the road, we still don't really know if it was Lee
Harvey Oswald who gunned Kennedy down on November 22, 1963. And we may never
know who killed the former prime minister of Lebanon on February 14, 2005.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward magazine.