On the record, Detlev Mehlis explains his coming resignation as head of the UN team investigating the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri on personal grounds. He says his wife wants him to give up a dangerous mission and come home.
The real reason, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, is the shakeup Angela Merkel effected at the head of Germany’s security and intelligence a mere two days after she sat down in the Germany chancellor’s office on Nov. 30.
Ernst Uhrlau, who was secret service coordinator in the office of former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, is the new head of Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service. Klaus-Dieter Fritsche who headed Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, became Merkel’s secret services coordinator in the chancellery.
Uhrlau’s promotion is the most telling.
This top secret service executive has cultivated the closest and most complex ties of any German intelligence official with Iran’s leaders and intelligence chiefs, Syrian regime heads, Hizballah leaders and Islamist radical groups ideologically close to al Qaeda. The new German chancellor, by elevating him to the top of the BND, shows she expects Iranian issues, the war on al Qaeda and the Middle East to stay at the center of international affairs during her five-year tenure.
Mehlis, an expert in his own right in the labyrinthine intelligence-cum-terror organizations of the Middle East, does not argue with this perception. But in the eight months he has led the Hariri inquiry, he has reached the conclusion that the majority of the Syrian and Lebanese officials involved in the assassination of the Lebanese leader belong to intelligence or terror establishments with which Ehrlau boasts excellent connections. By pressing ahead with his probe, Mehlis fears he will prejudice the new BND’s connections at the very moment that they might be of use to the new chancellor for promoting German influence in the Middle East. The German investigative prosecutor therefore decided to bow out rather than step into this minefield.
The German investigator will nail Damascus before he goes
At the same time, Detlev Mehlis, while cautious is also thorough and conscientious and loath to abandon his inquiry before it is finalized.
Therefore, after submitting his final report to the UN secretary on December 12, and the UN Security Council on December 15, the investigator plans to whip out international detention warrants in the name of two Syrian generals. Both were questioned at the UN’s headquarters in Vienna this week.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly names them as General Rustum Ghazaleh, former Syrian military intelligence chief in Lebanon and current director of national intelligence, and his former right hand in Lebanon Col. Jam’a Jam’a.
Before the officers were sent to Vienna, the UN secretary Kofi Annan bowed to Damascus’s terms and guaranteed they would not be arrested in the Austrian capital after their questioning.
But there were no such commitments with regard to the aftermath of the questioning stage. Anyway, Annan has no competence to oblige the Lebanese government to refrain from requesting international detention warrants at a later stage.
The UN investigator decided to take advantage of this hole. Our sources report that the process has already gone forward. The Beirut government has asked the UN to apply for documents for the arrest of the two Syrian officers. Rather than leaving the procedure for the Security Council, Mehlis activated the Lebanese government before submitting his report.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources add this is only the first step in the German investigator’s plan for bringing Syria to book.
His final report is built around a sweeping indictment of Damascus. He will stress that, although they were not made available for interrogation in Vienna, the top suspects of complicity in the planning and execution of the Hariri murder are still President Bashar Assad’s brother Maher Assad, and commander of the presidential guard and the president’s brother-in-law General Assef Shawqat, who is also head of Syrian military intelligence.
A Lebanese lawyer took notes at the Syrian officers’ interrogations
The Mehlis report will also state that the panel has substantiated its suspicions of Syrian complicity with testimony, but a lot more work remains to be done to turn these suspicions into solid evidence that can stand up in a court of law.
The UN inquiry commission will therefore continue its work under a new director.
Annan according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources is thinking of appointing a juridical personality or investigating judge from a country that has been neutral in the Hariri affair, like Romania or Greece. He may not have found a suitable replacement for Mehlis by next week.
For Damascus, Mehlis’s departure is a relief.
Syrian leaders and UN circles in New York see a fairly long interval of weeks if not months before the inquiry is taken up again. A new director has still to be appointed and will need time to study the huge pile of material and testimony that has accumulated.
It is also possible that the next head of the UN panel will take the investigation in an entirely different direction from the one pursued by Mehlis, or become ensnared in Assad’s expert machinations and tactics for protecting his cronies.
In the final stage of his inquiry, Mehlis did his utmost to circumvent those tactics. He was not present at the interrogation of Syrian officers in Vienna. But he took advantage of the fact that they turned up with a battery of 30 Syrian lawyers to insert a Lebanese woman lawyer as representative of the Lebanese state attorney. No sooner was the interrogation finished, than she was flown home and placed under the protection of Lebanese security. As a result, for the first time, the Lebanese government and the Hariri family have obtained protocols from the interrogations of senior Syrian suspects.
They will no doubt leak sections of these documents when it suits them.