In a strict legal sense, the Mehlis Report raised more questions than it answered and ultimately proved nothing. Nonetheless, it amply demonstrated that the Syrian regime did not fully cooperate with the investigation and that some officials might have in fact tried to mislead it.
But this is not of the essence. For the Report is one on preliminary findings only and Mehlis himself does state that he has more evidence in his possession which he chose not to reveal at this stage as the investigation is still underway.
Moreover, the UN is not exactly a court of law. The evidence presented to the Security Council does not need to be conclusive. It simply needs to establish enough political credibility to allow for a specific course of action to be adopted. This is what many in the Syrian regime fail to understand. The Report itself is not political, but the whole context in which it is being presented and evaluated is. As such, their legalistic and semantic argumentations are beside the point. Theirs is an existential political dilemma par excellence, and they should learn how to deal with it as such, and they should do fast.
for their part, observers of the situation need to learn one important thing about Arab regimes, namely that their strength cannot be purely assessed on the basis of the usual objective criteria that might come to mind in this regard, such as their military capacity and their ability to stage massive popular demonstrations of support.
Rather, the strength of such regimes should be assessed on the basis of the intellectual capacity of the leaders involved and their ability to rise above their petty squabbles and turf wars to form viable policy alternatives that can help them face the international community and address regional and internal challenges.
Seen in this light, the chances of the Syrian regime to survive the current crisis must be next to none. This regime has constantly overplayed its hand and has continuously deprived itself of all important cards. At many occasions it has even tried to play a fresh new game with a very old deck, and was absolutely stunned and flabbergasted at the inability and unwillingness of the world to be deceived by such a mediocre move on its part. This is the essence of the regime’s current incredulity: the world seems simply unwilling to be deceived by their mediocre tactics.
This leaves the Syrian regime with very few scenarios, including:
- The Syrian people led by opposition figures could take to the street and force the regime leaders to resign in an unexpected velvet revolution.
- Bashar could abdicate forcing an internal showdown between various contenders. The eventual winner, whoever he may be, will have to present a reform agenda to the Syrian people and a few scapegoats to the international community to help legitimize his position. The country, according to this scenario, could witness a brief or not so brief civil war.
- Bashar could be assassinated leading to a scenario similar to the one mentioned above.
- Bashar could turn against his very family and try to appeal to the Syrian people for support as he undertakes to launch a new “corrective movement.” Failure in this move would result in the enactment of the previous scenario.
- Bashar could be deposed in a coup and accused of plotting the act of assassinting Hariri himself in cooperation with others. The names involved will depend on the identity of those leading the coup, of course, but they will most likely include that of Rustum Ghazale in all cases. The chief of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, who was so obviously involved in every aspect of Lebanese politics, cannot claim ignorance here. Nor can ignorance be claimed on his behalf by a regime that is serious about being legitimated by the international community.
- Bashar could choose to hold on to power to the bitter end, thus paving the way for international isolation and sanctions. This could set the ground for a future enactment of any of the scenarios above down the road. For isolation and sanctions, despite the fact that they might initially strengthen the regime, are bound to take a drastic toll on it, and not only the Syrian people, in due course of time, on account of Syria’s obvious lack of resources. Its oil is too scarce to allow it to buy friends who would help it break through the sanctions. Turkey, which many people may point to as a potential candidate in this regard simply because it could take advantage of the sanctions to flood Syrian markets with its products, is not likely to be so cooperative in this, lest it hurts its chances for European accession. The Turks have done it with Iraq yes, but these were different times.