Sunday, December 18, 2005

From Mehlis II to Phase II!

The procedural nature of the Mehlis’s Second Report is encouraging some Arab analysts to conclude that a deal has been struck with the Syrian regime or that the crisis is over.

Indeed, it is quite likely that Bashar & Co. themselves might be tempted to think along these lines in due course of time, believing that their scare tactics in Lebanon have had the desired effect.

This is of course a complete misreading of the situation. The investigation is ongoing, and Mehlis has made it quite clear both in the text of the new report and throughout his pronouncements afterwards, including his latest interview with Asharq al-Awsat, that the Syrian regime is to blame for the murder of Hariri and that the next phase of the investigation will focus on Syria more than before.

The sensationalism that surrounded the release of the First Report and this whole episode with the visibly deleted names might have hindered the investigation in many ways by creating an untoward political climate and alerting the chief suspects. Mehlis seems intent on avoiding a repeat of this situation in the future, as best as possible. In his words: “I think we should not give any suspect party involved the hint, or hints, of where this investigation is going, what we know, and what we will do. Because this is the only thing that could really harm the investigation.”

The next phase, therefore, might witness a more conservative approach to its relations with both the Syrian regime and the media. Still, investigators will have to talk to Syrians suspects of varying levels and the Syrian authorities will find themselves once again hard-pressed to deliver on what is likely to be undeliverable for them. The next six months, therefore may not necessarily be as quiet as might hope, be they members of the investigating team or the Syrian regime.

Still, and since the Syrian regime is not going to cooperate in indicting itself, the real focus of the investigation is going to be the analysis of the available physical evidence, that is the over 400,000 telephone records, the tens of thousands of available documents, the money trail, and the hundreds of testimonies on record. This is where the real evidence for the case is located. This is the stuff that convictions are made of.

Mehlis has just thrown us a curve ball, the regime is free to be fooled by it. In fact, let’s hope it will, no matter how partially so. The regime is at its worst when it is confident. Meanwhile, the opposition should focus on getting its act together and trying to communicate more effectively with the people, focusing its campaign on the ongoing corruption of the Syrian regime and the impact this is having on the country’s economy and standing in the world.