Lebanon Presidential Politics and the Brammertz Report

The 9th Brammertz report has been published. It does not tell us a lot that was not in previous reports. (thanks Why D.)

Here is what A.P. gets out of it:

UNITED NATIONS (AP)–A U.N. inquiry has made progress in linking people to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and is closely examining the possibility that two or more teams may have prepared and carried out the attack, the chief investigator said Wednesday.

While not identifying anyone, Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in his final report to the Security Council that progress by the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission in the last four months has led to the identification of new "persons of interest" and new investigative leads.

"The commission has also deepened and broadened its understanding of the possible involvement of a number of persons of interest, including persons who have recently been identified by the commission, who may have been involved in some aspects of the preparation and commission of the crime or who may have known that a plan to carry out the crime was being prepared," Brammertz said.

"In addition to the progress made in linking various persons of interest to the commission of the crime, the commission has also established links between some of these persons," he said, adding that pursuing this line of inquiry will be a priority in the coming months.

Brammertz said the commission also confirmed its hypothesis that "operational links may exist" between the perpetrators of 18 other targeted assassinations and bombings in Lebanon, adding that confirming these links and establishing new links will also be a priority in the near future.

The most recent assassination, of Parliament member Antoine Ghanem on Sept. 19 – just three days after he returned to Beirut from a prolonged trip overseas – showed that the perpetrators were able to conclude their surveillance and arrange a car bomb on short notice, he said.

This and evidence from the Hariri probe and some other attacks confirms "that the perpetrators or groups of perpetrators had and still have advanced and extensive operational capacities available in Beirut," Brammertz said.

It reminds us that the investigation is still proceeding. Some, such as our very own Alex get the sense that the investigation is leading away from Syria. This is a line of inquiry that has been pursed by both T_Desco of Syria comment, who follows the court cases and arrests of the various Islamist groups in Lebanon, and Nibras Khazimi at Talisman's Gate, who translated the testimony of Faisal Akbar—the Saudi citizen who first confessed to a role in the Hariri assassination after he was arrested in January 2006 but then retracted his statement—which was published in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.

Most observers believe Syria remains very much in the cross hairs of the investigation.

Brammertz has kept his cards very close to his chest. So far there is no indication of a smoking gun. The notion that most evidence is circumstantial is supported by the painfully slow progress the investigation has made and the fact that very few countries seem to have stepped forward to finance the court being set up in the Netherlands or the very expensive investigative team and support staff that will be needed to support it. If there were proof that Syria was involved in the assassination of Hariri, one suspects that various donors would have turned their pockets inside out get the evidence in front of the world as fast as possible.

Lebanese Presidential Politics

Here is how THANASSIS CAMBANIS and NADA BAKRI of The New York Times see it:

Syria, the most important outside influence over Lebanese politics, had hesitated until the last minute over whether to attend the conference.

Immediately after the talks, Syrian allies in Lebanon endorsed the first major political breakthrough. Analysts say the talks could thaw strained relations between Syria and the United States.

“The Syrians did not want to go to Annapolis, and without them the conference would have been a failure and would have weakened the Arabs,” said Talal Atrissi, a political analyst and sociologist at Lebanese University. “The Syrians traded their participation, which did not cost them anything, with a deal on the Lebanese presidency.”

Here is what  "friday-lunch-club" has to say:
Whatever has been 'discussed' between Commander Michel Sleiman and the main supporters of his candidacy (the Egyptians) is still very sketchy. The Head of Egyptian Intelligence, Brig. Omar Suleiman, is a man of very few words, therefore it is still early to know what (if any) perimeters have been discussed and agreed upon.
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In Beirut, 'parties' are in deep discussing the immediate-post-election period: (1) the formation of a new government, (2) its composition (3) Hezballah's arsenal (4) relations with Syria and (5) the International Tribunal.
,.
Every time Sleiman inches towards M14, he loses equal 'Opposition'' support, and vice versa.
The stew is just about heating up 
  
…as Aoun threw back the ball of fire to the ruling clique, MP Samir Jisr (FUTURE) was quick to dispel any notion that MP Houri's (FUTURE) position represents the later ONLY!
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Is Saad Hariri that "brilliant"? Is Ammar Houri a Maverick? Does the FUTURE movement group a bunch of yoyos? Take your pick. What is certain is this: Saad Hariri DID NOT CONSULT the die hard members of M14, and now they are pissed!
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Please note that Carlos Edde (and the throngs of supporters) 'refuses' to amend the Constitution, and Hisham Melhem (brilliant as usual) said that "there is no evidence whatsoever of a COVERT US-Syrian deal"!! Evidence of a covert deal! Wow!

Lebanese Lawmakers Postpone Election of President Until Dec. 7 By: Massoud A. Derhally | Bloomberg News
Lebanese lawmakers delayed a vote scheduled today for a new president until Dec. 7 as the government and opposition try to agree on Army Commander Michel Sleiman for the post, a spokesman for the Parliament speaker said.

Nur al-Cubicle reminds us that there are still some possible hurrdles to overcome:

It doesn’t appear to be a “slam dunk” for Suleiman [via L’Orient-Le Jour - my translation]:

“The hard core opposition, Hezbollah and General Aoun, believe the rapid consensus among the majority on the candidacy of General Suleiman is an Franco-American-Egyptian «conspiracy» which they have decided to oppose.

Refusing any comment on Suleiman, General Aoun continued his consultations on Wednesday and announced upcoming massive «peaceful» demonstrations supporting his own candidacy.

For its part, Hezbollah and Amal seem to have sent out the word to reject the amendment of the Constitution and to demand the resignation of Mr. Fouad Siniora. Mr Siniora cannot, they believe, put forward draft legislation to amend the Constitution, as his government is not Constitutional.

Any other action would signify legitimization of the government on the part of the Opposition, a concession that would permanently discredit them.”

I suppose it is illegal to elect the chief of the army to the presidential slot.

By the way, how ironic. As Washington puts pressure on Musharraf to relinquish his army role, it high-fives a General+President in Lebanon.

Iraq Lacks Plan on the Return of Refugees, Military Says By: Michael R. Gordon and Stephen Farrell | The New York Times
As Iraqi refugees begin to stream back to Baghdad, American military officials say the Iraqi government has yet to develop a plan to absorb the influx and prevent it from setting off a new round of sectarian violence.

Comments (13)


1. ausamaa said:

Ahhh, Brammertz and the International Tribunal! Are they still at it??

A hunch based on a quick reading between the lines tells me that talking about a “link” between the Harriri assasination and the “other” assasinations that followed seem to indicate to me that they are subtly “hinting” that some one other than Syria is now being examined.

Let us wait for the Truth anyway!

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November 30th, 2007, 8:27 pm

 

2. Honest Patriot said:

AUSAMAA says
“they are subtly “hinting” that some one other than Syria is now being examined.”

A more logical reading reinforces the Syrian culpability, whether it be derived from Assad or from the “rogue elements” often referred to. Why else would all the victims of these assassinations be exclusively vocal opponents of the Syrian domination of Lebanon ?

But I guess we will each have a hunch consistent with our biases. I bet Dr. Landis agrees with AUSAMAA and WHY-DISCUSS and AKBAR PALACE agree with me.

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November 30th, 2007, 9:23 pm

 

3. Alex said:

I have a very simple observation:

The Hariri TV station news program did not mention the report the first day it was out … in the past they used to immediately spot the anti-Syria parts and they kept repeating them. Not this time.

I am confident the investigation is diversifying … Still loking at the Syria hypothesis but by now equally looking at other possibilities.

When Brammertz first replaced Mehlis the Syrians told him that they would cooperate with him provided he did not drop other hypotheses if they sound plausible. They wanted him to start by investigating the source of the van used in the assassination.

Here are the parts that led me to believe Brammertz is looking at other possibilities:

The commission also advanced its understanding of the identity of the alleged suicide bomber and possible motives for the attack, he said, noting that the main emphasis has been on Hariri’s political activities but his leadership in the Sunni community could also be a factor.

“Given the possibility that a combination of factors may have influenced the motive to assassinate Hariri, the commission is closely examining the possibility that two or more teams of perpetrators may have taken part in the preparation and commission of the attack,” he said.

In the last four months, Brammertz said, investigators focused on tracing the origin of the explosives used in the bombing and are reviewing new information on individuals, groups and institutions which may have had access to the material.

As for the presumed suicide bomber, Brammertz said expert findings received recently suggest he was exposed “to significant quantities of a specific type of lead, possibly through proximity to military ammunition between the age of 16 and 20.”

“This could indicate that he was either living close to a conflict area or to an area where weapons were used on a regular basis such as a military training camp,” he said.

Brammertz said a database containing more than 330 DNA profiles, 160 fingerprints and 24 sketches of persons of interest to the investigation has recently become operational and has started “to bear some significant results by generating new avenues for investigation and, equally importantly, allowing the commission to close down other investigative tracks.”

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November 30th, 2007, 10:34 pm

 

4. idaf said:

Rami Khouri with another fine piece. His 2 last paragraph are classic…

Losing ground to Syria in the bazaar
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 01, 2007

Almost every conversation I have had with friends and colleagues over the past few weeks on overall issues in the Middle East – Lebanon, the implications of Annapolis, Iraq, Iran and Palestine – has invariably led to a discussion about Syria and a slightly dizzying combination of hypothetical scenarios of its role in the region. The latest milestone on Syria’s road back from its marginalization in recent years was its invitation to, and presence at, the Annapolis meeting.

Typically, the Syrians played hard to get, demanded that the occupied Golan Heights and overall Arab-Israeli peace-making (not just bilateral Palestine-Israel issues) be included on the agenda; and, when these goals were achieved, it sent a deputy foreign minister rather that the foreign minister all other parties sent. The signal sent was vintage Syrian diplomacy: We are willing to play ball, but we also want to play a role in writing the rules of the game, and not merely respond to American-Israeli summonses, dictates and threats.

The transformation of Syria from an isolated gangster state in the eyes of many two years ago to a cog in any Middle Eastern conversation or diplomatic endeavor today is a reflection of Syria’s policies, but also of the interconnected nature of the Middle East’s many conflicts and tensions. Whether one likes or dislikes Syrian policies – there are valid reasons to do both – Damascus today is a player in every single major contentious issue and active conflict in the region, including: Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, the war on terror, Russia’s re-entry into the Middle East and weapons of mass destruction proliferation. Its close working ties and medium-intensity alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah, in particular, give it strategic leverage vis-a-vis Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Iran.

How Syria plays its cards will determine if it carves out for itself a major role in the region and propels itself onto the path of sustainable national development, or messes up badly and descends into a suicidal spiral of self-destructive militarism and rejectionism. That Syria was invited to the American party at Annapolis, and attended, is a strong sign that it prefers to engage with the West and reap the benefits of such a move – primarily regime continuity and stability – rather than perpetually play the role of isolated Arab spoiler, Iran’s only Arab state ally, and American-designated state supporter of terrorism.

Unlike most other Arab governments, Syria has been prepared to resist and defy American and other Western pressures and threats, including low-key unilateral American sanctions, while repositioning itself throughout the region to give itself assets and cards to play.

President Bashar Assad has completed his initial years of learning and consolidating power after succeeding his father seven years ago, and appears to have started playing some of the cards and assets he has accumulated, especially in Iraq and Arab-Israeli peace-making. On both counts, Syria has legitimate national security concerns and much to gain from successful diplomacy that allows it to maneuver into a win-win position of convergence among its own national self-interest and the strategic goals of the United States, other Western powers, major Arab states and Israel. The era of smashing heads may soon be replaced with the time to make deals.

We will see a more significant focus on the prospects for Syrian-Israeli negotiations when the proposed follow-up to Annapolis convenes in Moscow in early 2008. The big question that comes up in every conversation about Syria these days remains intriguingly unanswered: Would Damascus abandon or significantly downplay its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah, in exchange for a fair peace with Israel – ending the threats against it by the US, normalization with the West, and major economic development boosts?

Many Lebanon are concerned that Syria wants to regain its dominance over Lebanon through its Lebanese allies and proxies, and might get Western approval for this in any big regional bargain. Another looming issue is the fate of the United Nations investigation and tribunal dealing with the assassinations of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others in Lebanon since February 2005. Many Lebanese worry that the US-led West would downgrade the tribunal’s penetration into the upper echelons of the Syrian regime – if the evidence points that way, as many suspect it does – in return for Syrian cooperation on the other issues where it can deliver, especially Iraq, Iran, and Israel-Palestine.

The art and beauty of the negotiated commercial or political deal in Middle Eastern history has always been two-fold: the bargaining process itself, and the outcome that must satisfy both sides, or all sides if more than two players are involved. Syria, the US, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia and a few others have now embarked on one of the biggest deal-making enterprises in modern Middle East history.

To understand and enjoy this spectacle, keep in mind that making a deal in the ancient bazaars of the Middle East – and Damascus has the oldest one around – includes a combination of showmanship, brinksmanship, threats, enticements, resistance, realism, pragmatism, and, above all, patience to wait out the other side.

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November 30th, 2007, 11:58 pm

 

5. Sophia said:

Since last November, when opposition ministers walked out from the Lebanese government, every time a solution is profiled and accepted by a significant number of people from both the government and the opposition, a new deadlock emerges.
In the present case, those who oppose the amendment of the constitution seem to be comfortable with the intolerable and potentially dangerous vacancy of power.
My bet, and my view is very cynical, is that politicians from March 14th are trying to buy time for the US ahead of a war against Iran. Bush will never leave office without a showdown with Iran which he will present as a fixer to his Iraqi failure. The recent so-called change of heart of Jumblatt, as well as the unilateral moves by Hariri, are meant to convince public opinion, when the worse will come for Lebanon, that March 14th have done everything possible to save the country from division. The future will tell, and sooner than later…

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December 1st, 2007, 12:42 am

 

6. Youssef Hanna said:

Alex,

You write : “I am confident the investigation is diversifying … Still loking at the Syria hypothesis but by now equally looking at other possibilities”.

I do not agree with your statement; more importantly, Brammertz does not; he has all to the contrary “narrow(ed) the scope of the investigation” (§6), through “excluding certain previously held hypotheses” (§6), “largely narrowed down the possible motives for the assassination to those linked to Rafik Hariri’s political activities in the months and years leading up to his death” (§46), at the head of which the “possible or perceived role played by Hariri in the inception and implementation of this resolution (1556, requesting withdrawal of Syrian troops)” (§46).

Here are §s 6 & 46 of his report:

6 – (…) the Commission has increasingly been able to narrow the scope of the investigation by making more precise preliminary conclusions regarding the circumstances surrounding the crime while excluding certain previously held hypotheses.”

46. As detailed in the Commission’s consolidation reports, the Commission has largely narrowed down the possible motives for the assassination to those linked to Rafik Hariri’s political activities in the months and years leading up to his death. During this reporting period, the Commission continued to extend its understanding of the relevance of several political events to the possible motives. These events include the adoption of Resolution 1559 and the possible or perceived role played by Hariri in the inception and implementation of this resolution, the extension of Lahoud’s mandate and the proposed reform of the electoral law as well as Hariri’s political posture regarding the 2005 parliamentary elections.”

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December 1st, 2007, 1:26 pm

 

7. ausamaa said:

Ok, but for the hell of it, and for the purpose of not having our brains rest in a deep comma; are the hands of the CIA and the Mossad much cleaner than the hands of Syrian Intelligence?

Are we uncapable of even considering other possibilities?

And for those who continue to insist that Syria was behind all those unstoppable assasinations, if I was in your shoes, and if I really believed that it was Syria and no one else but Syria, then, I would really be scared shitless of this thing “called” Syria who is capable of commiting assasinations that can not be linked to it, and for continuing to do so while the whole world is focusing on it, and while an International Tribunal had been already set up to invistigate and convince the culprit.

The Lebanese General Jamil Al Sayyed had said after the Harriri assasination that whever Didi It was either Enestine, or a donkey. I would like to enhance that statement by saying that whowever did it was so powerfull that he could not care about the consequences. And I do not Syria belive that it is “that” powerfull yet!!

The word Paradigmes comes to mind handy in this case!!!

Or is Blinders a more apporopriate word?

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December 1st, 2007, 7:50 pm

 

8. why-discuss said:

Honest Patriot, Alex, Aussama, Youssef Hanna

Until the last report I was under the impression Brammertz was diversifying thee tracks. That last report, in my point of view , decisively points at the political events around Hariri. I think the other tracks seem to have been mentionned just to make the targeted cuplrits feeling less cornered or as accessories to the main tracks.
As you mentionned, Youssef Hanna:
“46. … the Commission has largely narrowed down the possible motives for he assassination to those linked to Rafik Hariri’s political activities in the months and years leading up to his death”
Here the report mentions ONLY these events:
- The 1559 adoption and Hariri’s role in it.
- the extension of Lahoud presidency
- The proposed reform of the electoral law
- Hariri’s posture for the parlementary elections

In each of these events Syria and its allies are directly involved. Unless an organized and powerful group with a long and strategic view on the benefits of framing Syria (such as Israel Mossad or CIA) is responsible, this report leaves little ambiguities on the motives and its perpetrators.
Is the analysis of the report has made Syria temper its optimism about Annapolis? Were Annapolis sweet words to Syria just a preliminary to a dark blackmail: Dump Iran’s alliance or face the International Tribunal?

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December 1st, 2007, 7:57 pm

 

9. Alex said:

Why, Youssef,

You can see many things in a report that was written in an intentionally ambiguous language.

Please analyze for us the meanings of the parts in bold below:

The commission also advanced its understanding of the identity of the alleged suicide bomber and possible motives for the attack, he said, noting that the main emphasis has been on Hariri’s political activities but his leadership in the Sunni community could also be a factor.

Given the possibility that a combination of factors may have influenced the motive to assassinate Hariri, the commission is closely examining the possibility that two or more teams of perpetrators may have taken part in the preparation and commission of the attack,” he said.

In the last four months, Brammertz said, investigators focused on tracing the origin of the explosives used in the bombing and are reviewing new information on individuals, groups and institutions which may have had access to the material.

Brammertz said a database containing more than 330 DNA profiles, 160 fingerprints and 24 sketches of persons of interest to the investigation has recently become operational and has started “to bear some significant results by generating new avenues for investigation and, equally importantly, allowing the commission to close down other investigative tracks.

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December 1st, 2007, 8:11 pm

 

10. why-discuss said:

Alex

There are may ‘could’ but the core of the motives is clear in paragrah 46

The other tracks Brammertz is following deal with the execution of the assassination, not the organization behind it. Many elements show that one or more sunni extremist groups may have be used in this plan under false information: they were lead to believe it was the Iraqi prime minister or an ennemy of al Qaeda who was targeted. That makes sense as it is difficult to conceive that a sunni extremist groups would accept to kill Hariri who is sunni and who has not been particulary tough on fighting terrorism.

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December 1st, 2007, 8:24 pm

 

11. Alex said:

WHY

“Given the possibility that a combination of factors may have influenced the motive to assassinate Hariri, the commission is closely examining the possibility that two or more teams of perpetrators may have taken part in the preparation and commission of the attack,” he said.”

“commission of the attack” .. not only the final execution.

Also … we know from previous similar cases that it is quite unlikely that the real commissioner of an assassination will be identified.

Even if Mr. Brammertz finds the killer (s) … he will still be far from the person or team behind them … and the other person or tam behind them.

Expect at least two layers of ambiguity… Neither Asef Shawkat, nor the chief of the Mossad will personally be closely identified with such an operation … they all know how to do it if they wanted to.

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December 1st, 2007, 8:35 pm

 

12. why-discuss said:

Alex

The theory of other teams organizing and executing the crime still holds, but these teams may have been manipulated to believe they were aiming a different target than Hariri or had radically different motives to act against him and they went on the band wagon. I was wondering if the Abu Adas tape mentionned specifically the name of Hariri?
Yes, I guess this tribunal will last for years and we could see surprises, suicides, and other murders typical of an intelligence service plot, but in my eyes this report is the most focused and threatening of all the reports. I still believe there is a blackmail against Syria on its way.

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December 1st, 2007, 9:02 pm

 

13. Youssef Hanna said:

It looks indeed like the US and France will use the assassination of Hariri and other M14ers the way they previously used Kadhafi’s booby trapping of the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie and of the French DC-10.

I suspect Pdt Assad will be requested to get rid of his brother-out-law.

However, while his elder brother Bassel could have successfully stood up and challenged A. Shawkat, I doubt it that Pdt Bashar can face the strong character of his sister.

If ever he does, and the Syrian regime keeps the track started in Iraq (reducing the flow of jihadis), Lebanon (ordering Lahoud to step down without forming a new govnmt), Palestine (impeding the fassa’el from organising a parallel meeting in Damascus), and followed by attending Annapolis, then the Hague tribunal could only catch small fish, of the like of Rostom Ghazaleh, Jame3 Jame3.

To their partial discharge, the US and France had warned the Syrian regime not to harm Hariri, after the attempt at assassinating Hamadé:

“After the assassination attempt, Paris and Washington sent messages to Damascus warning the Syrians not to harm opposition leaders, specifically Mr Hariri and Mr Jumblatt. Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State, reiterated that warning during a meeting with Mr Assad in Damascus on January 2.” (T.Desco, his posting of May 1, 2006, quoting Times).

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December 2nd, 2007, 3:17 am

 

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