Former Syrian VP Abdel-Halim Khaddam confirmed in an interview yesterday with al-Arabiya that Bashar Assad threatened to “break Lebanon” on the head of Rafik Hariri after the latter refused to submit to orders to circumvent Lebanese law and extend President Emile Lahoud’s term of office. Khaddam makes clear that Assad and his security advisors made numerous threats to Hariri during the meeting, which upset the Lebanese billionaire and patriot so much that he left with a nosebleed:
The meeting in Damascus referred to by Mr. Khaddam occurred on Aug. 26, 2004, when Mr. Assad bluntly ordered that the Lebanese Parliament amend the Constitution to extend the term of his ally, President Émile Lahoud. Mr. Hariri, a billionaire who had almost single-handedly rebuilt the center of Beirut after 15 years of civil war, objected.
The meeting lasted just 15 minutes. According to both the United Nations report and previous accounts by Mr. Hariri’s political allies, Mr. Hariri returned shaken, saying Mr. Assad had threatened to “break Lebanon on your head.”
The report also included the transcript of a taped conversation with the Syrian deputy foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, just two weeks before Mr. Hariri was killed in which he called the meeting “the worst day of my life.”
When Mr. Hariri protested Syria’s domination of Lebanon, the report said, Mr. Moallem replied, referring to the security services, “We and the services here have put you into a corner.” He continued, “Please do not take things lightly.”
Khaddam now lives in Paris, outside the reach of Syrian security services, and claims that he wanted to make sure that the record was set straight. He also pointed out to al-Arabiya that the security services of Syria could not have acted alone in assassinating Hariri, and that means that they had to get higher authority for coordination. Khaddam told his interviewer that the UN probe would reveal the “apparatus” behing Hariri’s car-bomb death soon enough, and strongly implied that the report would implicate the entire Syrian government in the assassination.
This will present a problem for the Security Council, which has demanded the investigation. One sovereign nation — and a member of the SC itself — has conducted assassinations on politicians of another sovereign member-state. What punishment will the UNSC devise for such a transgression? Will Russia and China use their vetoes to ensure that Syria remains unaffected by United Nations actions? Even more than with Iraq, this has the potential to reduce the UN to nothing more than the League of Nations with better stationery. Russia and China will not allow the British, French, and Americans to lock Assad into a sanctions regime that will cut him off and ensure his collapse. Anything less would be a joke, and for truly effective action such as military strikes, I suspect that the Russians and Chinese wouldn’t even need to use the veto; it would probably lose on a majority vote in the UNSC.
Does that mean that Assad will escape without any consequences? Not hardly. The French and the Americans will push for sanctions anyway, and perhaps even a military demonstration or two just to remind Assad that he’s playing on a much larger scale now. Bypassing the UNSC will drive another nail into its long-overdue coffin, though, and the Russians and Chinese might consider that when they debate on whether to use those vetoes.