Outside View: Syria on the rails

YOUSSEF M. IBRAHIM, UPI Outside View Commentator

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The French proverb, "The more it changes the more it is the same old thing'' comes to mind as we watch the contortions of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad in the face of repeated requests by U.N. United Nations investigator Detlev Mehlis looking into who killed Rafik Hariri last February.

Every week the Syrian regime comes up with one way or another to refuse, postpone, nullify or otherwise twist the requests of the fearless German former prosecutor. The latest twist now is that any questioning of the Syrian officials suspected in Hariri's killing must take place either in Syria or, according to one newspaper report, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.


Things become clear WHEN you read the 134-page Mehlis report, which named names, including none other than President Bashar Assad's brother and brother-in-law as directly responsible for ordering and organizing the assassination. Of course an accusation is not proof, so the question is if these folks are innocent why is Syria doing everything it can to avoid the day of judgment?

Clearly, the greatest fear of an inquisition taking place outside Syria, is that the prosecutor Mehlis, who has all the power of the U.N. Security Council behind him, can order their immediate arrest pending further investigation. This happened with the four Lebanese security officials now sitting in a Lebanese jail. Once in jail, people talk, or make deals in order not to remain in jail. This Syria does not want.


The other request to hold the investigation in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is so transparent it makes one laugh. If the United Nations says yes, OK, let us talk to the Syrian generals, the relatives of President Assad in the Israeli-occupied Syrian territories, the whole Arab world will begin to talk about an Israeli-American-French conspiracy. The idea would discredit the whole investigation immediately. Therefore, this trial balloon by Syria will not succeed.

In fact the only question to ask is when Syria will get it?

The investigation is like a rolling train. And Syria is like the man strapped on the railways as the train comes closer and closer. There are two choices: Blow the train to stop it or free Syria to run away from the tracks before the train cuts the body in pieces. A possible third choice is watch the train kill and move on.

The Syrian officials Damascus is trying to protect from answering any questions are those who represent the heart and soul of the Baathist regime that has ruled the country for more than four decades. They may be innocent of some things -- such as pushing the button that detonated the bomb that killed Hariri and 20 others and began the unraveling of the whole Syrian presence in Lebanon. But there is more than just pushing the button. There is the business of creating the climate to kill and murder, of preparing and arming the murderers and of giving the marching orders.


One is perfectly willing to apply the American principle of justice here, that one is innocent until proven guilty. But the party in question must submit to questions and a trial. So why is Syria doing everything possible to avoid that process.

Among other things, Syria is embarrassing itself and those Arab friends who try to defend it.

It is appearing to the whole world like a man running away from the scene of a crime without explanations as a growing crowd of people run after it, shouting: ''STOP that man."

The crowd is getting bigger and Syria is running faster. But we know how these episodes end. The crowd always catches the runner.

One of the most embarrassing things the Syrians have done is the attempt to set up their own investigation into the killing seven months after it took place.

Excuse me? Where was Damascus all that time. First it denied anything to do with the killing and the need for any investigation, then it accepted the U.N. investigation and now it is pouring cold water on the U.N. investigation and deciding to set up its own. And how come the Syrian investigation is not going anywhere except to secure the fact that those being investigated cannot leave Syria while it goes on?


To the innocent observer it surely seems like an attempt to prevent those accused by the United Nations from answering the real investigation being conducted in Lebanon by that organization while keeping them under protection in Syria where, of course, the Syrian investigation will declare them innocent of all crimes.

The problem with all this is simply that it will not work. That train is coming down, rolling faster and faster and no one is coming to untie Syria off those tracks. Better accept reality, clean the system and move on with a new regime that does not occupy, kill, conspire and in general promotes instability in its region. That is the new international law.


(Youssef M. Ibrahim is a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal. This piece was first published in Al Itihad and the UAE news service.)


(United Press International's Outside View commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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