Tuesday, October 25

Heat increasing by hour on Syria's government

Pundita starts this post with advice for readers who didn't pay attention to the many months of tedious palaver running up to March 2003 then asked, "How the hell did that happen?" when they watched the bombing that signaled the US invasion of Iraq. Attend now to official yappity-yap and red tape winding around Syria so you're not bewildered later by fast-moving events.

This evening Britain, France and the United States distributed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution (No. 1559) under the enforcement provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The resolution demands that "Syria must detain those Syrian officials or individuals" implicated in the plot to assassinate Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

China is expected to attempt water down the resolution and try to pressure Russia to do the same. But the next step against Syria is underway. According to tomorrow's edition of the UK Times Online
The draft threatened "further measures" -- a reference to economic sanctions -- if Syria failed to co-operate with the UN inquiry led by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor. It also called for the assets to be frozen and a travel ban imposed on all individuals designated as suspects by Herr Mehlis’s investigation. [...] The resolution is likely to come to a vote at a special Foreign Ministers’ meeting of the 15-nation Security Council on Monday.
As to whether there's a military option tagged to the threat -- here we arrive at the complex part. The short answer is "no," however, Bashar al-Assad's government is not in hot water only because of their part in Rafik Hariri's assassination and refusal to cooperate with the investigation into his death.

This evening President Bush alluded to other sticky wickets by ticking off demands from the 'international community.' Syria must expel Palestinian militant groups, prevent insurgents from crossing its borders into Iraq and end Syrian interference in Lebanon.

Tomorrow, the UN will receive a second report on Syria's misbehavior. According to the (UK) Times, "UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen is expected to accuse Damascus of continued meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs."

So are we going to see military action at the end of the bureaucratic tunnel? Bush told al-Arabiya television that he hopes Syria will cooperate with demands to clean up its act, and that military action is the "the very last option."

Translation: Bush has refused to rule out the military option.

Something else may or may not happen tomorrow at the United Nations: Detlev Mehlis is expected to brief the 15 members of the UN Security Council on the findings of his commission. However, there is speculation(*) that the UN will give Mehlis another two months to finish up the investigation -- particularly under present conditions, which include a slew of credible death threats against the investigators. (It's always slow going when you have to move around investigators just to keep them alive.)

Alert readers will note that if Mehlis is given another two months, his investigation will wind up at just around the time Iraq's permanent government is installed. (The election will take place in December.)

At this point I envision several readers muttering, "What is this; the murder of Archduke Ferdinand? How come World War Three could be fought over some Lebanese guy I never heard of until his death?"

There will be no war touched off by Hariri's death. Syria's military has about two months to figure out what to do with Bashar al-Assad. They'll throw something together. This doesn't mean they'll head off war with Iraq; either they stand up to Tehran and refuse to keep sending fighters into Iraq, or there will be a military confrontation at some point down the line. The Iraqis will have no choice, if they want to draw down the terrorist attacks.

However, a quarter century from today, the 9/11 attack on America might have only a page in the history books, whereas Hariri's death could net an entire chapter. Why? Because his death was the "9/11" for Jacques Chirac and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. What this means for the Middle East and in turn the rest of the world is only starting to unfold.

The only thing that's guaranteed in war is that both sides will make mistakes. Excluding the folly of the 9/11 attack and information still locked in classified reports, the biggest mistake the other side has made so far was ordering the death of Rafik Hariri. So keep your eye on reports about Syria.

* 10:50 PM UPDATE : John Loftus has just reported on John Batchelor's show that Mehlis has been given the extension and that the final report is due December 15.

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