Friday, November 28, 2014

Golden years - Sabah’s death reminds us of the merits of nostalgia

The death of the singer Sabah this week prompted Walid Jumblatt to tweet, “Sad news today .the legendary singer Sabah died.with her passing away an entire beautiful past of Lebanon passes away.” The typographical errors notwithstanding, Jumblatt showed that even hardened politicians are as vulnerable to nostalgia as the common man.

The generation that dominated Lebanon’s golden years, those of the 1960s and early 1970s, is dying out. With this has come a renewed yearning in Lebanon for a period characterized in the popular imagination by glamour, success and style. Doubtless there is always a tendency to idealize the past, but compared with the country today, where most of the celebrities and public figures are cheap knockoffs of their predecessors and where vulgarity and exhibitionism pass for panache, there is some truth in that idealization.    

And yet glamor is really in the eye of the beholder. Many years ago one of my neighbors in Beirut was a famous television star. When he would stand on his balcony during the early 1970s, the children in the school bus picking me up would run to the windows to wave at him. Rather foolishly I bathed in the reflected glory of living in the same building as he.

When the war started, he and his family became our close friends. I saw a great deal of them and watched as they faced the vicissitudes of life in wartime Lebanon. They grew older, had no work, saw their mountain home burned, and then passed away. Yet today, knowing the reality of their life, I still feel powerful emotions when watching reruns of their television shows as their celluloid life displaces their real one. Many dismiss nostalgia, but it can pump us up with new oxygen.

That is why it is worth exploring a project, perhaps sponsored by the Culture Ministry and financed by Lebanese expatriates, to establish a national institution to display Lebanon’s cultural past and evoke nostalgia. It would include films, documentaries, newsreels, plays, magazines, books and photographs, and could organize exhibitions, film festivals and more.

What would the advantages of such an effort be? Above all, pleasure. But beyond that it would represent an occasion for the Lebanese to look at their country with a less jaundiced eye, and create a common memory in a fragmented society that seems to share so little these days. Such an objective may not seem important, given Lebanon’s myriad other problems, but initiatives of national revival and stimulation are common.

And they usually happen to be very popular. Youths may be less sensitive to the programs or singers their parents loved, but everyone is intrigued by how Lebanon once looked, especially when it represents such a striking contrast to the dysfunctional country of today. Perhaps in that way we could learn that Lebanon once stood for something culturally — whether high-brow or popular culture — in which we can take some pride.

My own preference goes to the foreign films shot in Beirut. They tell us more about how foreigners viewed Lebanon than how the Lebanese viewed themselves. And yet those films very much reflected an image that Lebanon itself sought to project; one of cosmopolitanism characterized by beautiful scenery and intrigue — all sunlight, blue sea and scotch and soda.  

One of my great delights was watching David Niven in Where the Spies Are, a 1965 takeoff on the espionage genre, directed by Val Guest. Niven is booked at the old Hotel Alcazar, today the HSBC Bank near the ruin of the Saint Georges Hotel. With him we rediscover various locations in Beirut and Byblos, carouse with Francoise Dorleac, escape thugs and undo conspiracies.

Beirut’s reputation was reflected in several other films from the same period, including George Lautner’s La Grande Sauterelle from 1967; Twenty-Four Hours to Kill with Mickey Rooney, from 1965; the silly yet entertaining Agent 505: Death Trap Beirut, from 1966, whose first scene is shot at the Sporting Club; and this less-than-sterling effort titled Secret Agent Fireball, from 1965. None are especially good, but I challenge anyone to remain indifferent to the physical backdrop of the stories.

Surprisingly little has come out of Lebanon’s war years. One might challenge the notion that war can provoke nostalgia, and yet some of Ziad al-Rahbani’s most beloved plays were produced during the war, and have war as a theme. These include Film Ameriki Tawil and Shi Fashil, while two of the most enduring films of the late Maroun Baghdadi also had war as their theme: Little Wars (1982) and Out of Life (1991).

That’s why nostalgia can also be a pernicious balm over the past, making one view previous horrors in a more forgiving light. But forgetfulness is the essence of renewal, and is why Lebanon has time and again come back from its worst crises, when others might have been overwhelmed.

This was the calculation when the postwar political class passed a general amnesty law for crimes committed during the war, a decision that provoked outrage among many people. But ours is an impressionistic Mediterranean culture, where ambiguity is the norm and truth relative, so pressing certain issues will often provoke undesirable consequences.

That’s why a center for cultural memory should be designed in much the same spirit. Let it be devoted to nostalgia and nothing more. Let the aim be to evoke the memory, or the illusion, of a former time. Let’s smoke the myth of Lebanon as the national opium for today. Nostalgia, our refund on a salary paid to age.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The U.S. is crippled in the Middle East

The next time a presidential campaign tries to convince you that its candidate has foreign policy experience by virtue of having spent a few years overseas as a child, remember Barack Obama. Among post-World War II administrations, his is one of the worst on foreign affairs, in a frequently abysmal field.

During his six years in office, Obama has often appeared to regard foreign policy as an imposition. His approach has generally been to avoid knotty crises, or to accept short-term solutions that leave problems unresolved, so as to better focus on domestic priorities. That is how ostriches behave, and Obama’s head-in-the-sand strategy is showing its failings.

The departure of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week made that perfectly clear. There was much commentary on how Hagel had failed to crack the inner core of presidential advisers at the White House; of how he had failed to define a clear military policy toward ISIS; of how he had stood back and allowed the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, to take the lead on military matters. Given that the military has been leaking heavily lately in ways designed to embarrass the White House over its anti-ISIS strategy, it was not surprising that Hagel was forced from office.

But it is the accusation that the defense secretary failed to formulate an effective policy that was most bizarre. Obama has set down foreign policy conditions, or red lines, that make a coherent policy next to impossible. And the president refuses to separate himself from the one person whose job it is to coordinate and impose a direction when it comes to American foreign affairs: the national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Rice was a spirited ambassador to the United Nations. She took strong positions on the slaughter in Syria, leading many to remember her regret for having failed to urge action to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when she was in the National Security Council. Rice famously said, “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

But since she joined the White House two years ago, she has conveniently put that vow aside, much as did her successor at the U.N., Samantha Power, the author of a much-hailed book on American inaction toward genocide. Insincerity in the defense of a career is no vice. Instead, what has gone down in flames are America’s alliances in the Middle East, so that next to Obama, even George W. Bush comes across as a great conciliator.

Recall how the earnest Norwegians of the Nobel Peace Prize committee rewarded Obama back in 2009, imagining that he ticked all the boxes in their checklist of global responsibility. That was before his indifference to the carnage in Syria would destroy his integrity, and long before he sent a letter to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reassuring him that American attacks against ISIS in Syria would not target the Assad regime’s forces, which have continued to murder Syrians with abandon.

The greater problem is that Obama’s policies in the Middle East have primarily been built not around principles or objectives, but around avoidance. After 2011 Obama felt that he could ignore what was taking place and blithely embark on a “pivot to Asia,” only to discover that the region does not obediently adapt itself to the attention spans of American presidents.

Today, that apathy has come back to bite Obama. He has deployed troops to Iraq once again; in Syria his campaign against ISIS has marginalized those rebels willing to work with the United States, undermining U.S. aims; American relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both old allies, are in a shambles, while those with Egypt have not yet recovered from the tensions raised by the Egyptian army’s forced removal of President Mohammad Morsi; Obama’s promise to advance Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations was never seriously implemented; and Obama’s opening to Iran continues to flounder, despite the president’s best efforts to find common ground with Tehran.

Virtually all these issues either took a turn for the worse or failed because Obama never gave them much time or put his personal credibility on the line to push for desirable outcomes. The president thought he had the luxury of allowing things to fester, only to realize the ensuing situations were far more damaging than he had anticipated. This was the case with the emergence of ISIS, which Obama admits he underestimated.

Politics cannot be conducted by remote control, whether in the Middle East or the United States. Obama might look back at a Democratic predecessor for a lesson. Bill Clinton had flaws, but he was a quintessential politician. When he wanted something, he got on an airplane and relentlessly pursued it. He was willing to get involved, and though he was no great foreign policy wonk, he grasped that his political effectiveness was just as dependent on what he did abroad as on what he did at home.

That kind of thinking led to the Dayton Agreement for the former Yugoslavia, the Oslo I Accord between the Palestinians and Israelis, and the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. It is also what made Jimmy Carter successfully negotiate the Camp David accords in 1978. Both Clinton and Carter were Democrats who, like Obama, initially sought to concentrate on domestic affairs, but who then adapted when foreign priorities beckoned.

Obama has two more years to do better. However, with a Republican House and Senate the likelihood that much will improve, or be allowed to improve, is not high. Hagel was a convenient scapegoat, but it will take much more than his exit for America to regain its foreign policy standing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This region pays heavily for Obama’s arrogance

Few things are more shameless than an administration on the ropes. This fact was brought home earlier this week when Chuck Hagel, the American defence secretary, announced that he would be stepping down.

Mr Hagel wasn’t quite fired, but the operative term was that he was “forced to resign”. A major reason hinted at by the administration was that the secretary had failed to define clear strategies in Syria and Iraq, permitting the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Martin Dempsey, to occupy centre stage.

The US military has been leaking heavily lately, mainly to reflect its displeasure with tight White House control over military operations in Syria. Mr Hagel undoubtedly paid a price because Mr Obama felt he had failed to control the top brass.

If the White House seeks clarity, Mr Obama’s recent letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hasn’t helped. The letter has not been made public, but those briefed on its contents told The Wall Street Journal that the president wrote that Washington and Iran had parallel interests in combating ISIL. In light of this, Mr Obama reassured the Iranian leader that American military operations inside Syria would not target Bashar Al Assad or his security forces.

Mr Hagel reportedly realised that the administration’s Syria policy was deeply flawed. He is said to have recently sent a memo to Susan Rice, the national security adviser, warning that the policy risked unravelling because of the administration’s failure to clarify its intentions towards Mr Al Assad.

The reality is that the White House has bullheadedly refused to address the future of the Syrian regime, even as it rejects dealing with Mr Al Assad and continues to fight extremists who will thrive for as long as he remains in office. Predictably, this tissue of contradictions has made US policy unintelligible.

American incoherence has strained relations between Washington and Ankara. In delaying aid to the Kurds fighting ISIL in Kobani, Turkey has, correctly, insisted that the real priority must be to get rid of the Assad regime. Unless that is done, all the elements that allowed ISIL to emerge will remain in place.

It is startling how indifferent, or how impervious, the Obama administration has been to the terrible suffering in Syria. Nor has it understood the outrage the slaughter has provoked worldwide. It is that outrage that has prompted thousands of foreigners to fight in Syria, and that has reinforced the most extremist tendencies among Mr Al Assad’s enemies.

Worse, today Mr Obama is proposing collaboration with Iran against ISIL. Yet Tehran has abetted Mr Al Assad in his crimes and is vital to his survival. The administration seems unconcerned that this will only undermine its own policy of building up so-called moderates in the Syrian opposition.

No one in the Syrian opposition, moderates or extremists, will want to be seen as siding with the Americans when Mr Obama is publicly reassuring Ayatollah Khamenei that Mr Al Assad is safe. On the contrary, they will regard the United States as an enemy – a trend already increasingly visible today.

Incomprehensibly, Washington has failed to apply in Syria the same logic it has pursued in Iraq. In Iraq it has insisted that the only way to undermine ISIL is to push the Shia-dominated government to better integrate Sunnis into the political system, since ISIL feeds off Sunni discontent. Yet Mr Obama evidently doesn’t accept that something so self-evident is relevant in Syria.

There are many in Washington who feared that a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 would have encouraged the administration to collaborate more readily with Tehran in the Middle East. That may be overstating things. In some places American and Iranian interests are parallel, for instance in Iraq and in specific situations in Lebanon. In others it is less so.

The problem is that no one quite understands what the Obama administration’s agenda is. It has senselessly alienated an old ally in Turkey, but seems willing to cooperate with an old enemy in Iran, one of Turkey’s regional rivals. It says that it wants Mr Al Assad to leave office and has long regarded him and Hizbollah as destabilising forces in the region, but has virtually recognised that Iran’s allies in Syria will not be harmed.

If this represented a strategic realignment in the region, then it would have been clearer. But it seems more a consequence of the White House’s irreconcilable aims and the fact that Ms Rice has been an incompetent national security adviser, utterly incapable of imposing a direction to American foreign policy.

Syria will continue to frustrate the United States, but the belief that Mr Al Assad will remain in office may be optimistic. His forces have taken heavy losses in recent months, and while he may last for a time, the Obama administration must prepare for the possibility of his regime falling. It may happen or it may not, but if extremist groups one day take over in Damascus, Mr Obama will be partly responsible for a grand mess.

Rarely has an administration been as severely criticised by its own former members as this one. Perhaps Mr Hagel will be next to write a sour memoir on his time in office. It can only be arrogance that explains Mr Obama’s unwillingness to admit, and undo, his administration’s blunders. Meanwhile, the Middle East will continue to pay in human lives for such conceit.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Message in a battle - What Jamil al-Sayyed told us about Syria’s aims

Jamil al-Sayyed, the former head of the General Security directorate, is not often in the news these days. So on those rare occasions when he is, it must be a trifle galling for him to be given the role of messenger.

And yet Sayyed’s statement in early November upon his return from Damascus after meeting with President Bashar al-Assad was an interesting one, and confirmed what many observers had been hearing for some time. Sayyed reported that the Syrian president sought more military cooperation between Syria and Lebanon, and quoted him as saying: “Coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian armies [in confronting terrorism] would alleviate the security burden for the two countries and would contribute to strengthening Lebanon’s security.”

The fact is that neither Syria nor Hezbollah was pleased with the government’s laissez-faire attitude in Arsal until last summer. They have for some time been pressuring the army to tighten security along the border in order to cut off the supply lines of the anti-Assad groups in Syria’s Qalamoun district.

There are several ironies here. Not very long ago it was Hezbollah that refused the idea of monitoring the border between Lebanon and Syria, a demand of March 14. After the conflict in Syria started, however, the roles were reversed. March 14 said nothing about the passage of weapons and supplies from Arsal into Syria, while Hezbollah sought to tighten border surveillance.

Sayyed’s remarks cast the situation in Arsal in a new light. When the Lebanese Army was attacked last June, it was because the anti-Assad armed groups in Qalamoun felt that the army was about to close the door on them, blocking their resupply routes to Lebanon. This poses a threat, particularly during the winter months, when they will have to move to lower areas, making them vulnerable to attacks by Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

That is not to say that those who abducted and killed Lebanese soldiers are anything but criminals; or that Lebanon is not justified in securing its borders. However, there is some question as to how many of the rebels fighting in Qalamoun really belong to the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra. A majority, according to Syrian assessments, are simply young men from Qalamoun who were forced to flee their towns and villages last year. That doesn’t mean that many of them do not sympathize with Jabhat al-Nusra, which reportedly has a larger presence than the Islamic State, or that they are not fighting with the group. All it means is that in the confusion of Qalamoun, it is likely that a vast majority of the combatants are far more concerned with defeating the Assad regime than they are with imposing an Islamic state in Lebanon, or opening a new Lebanese front that would drain their resources as they await an opportunity to focus on Damascus.

An understanding of these dynamics is necessary to determine what should be done next. If the Syrians are still sending messages that they seek coordination with the Lebanese Army, this suggests that the army and the political leadership have not responded adequately to Syrian demands up to now. That’s hardly surprising given how divided the country is and how events in Arsal might negatively affect sectarian relations.

Then there is the question of how long Assad can remain in power. His forces have been taking heavy casualties in recent months and have lost ground in southern Syria, the shortest path to the capital. The regime’s narrative that it is winning the battle and that Western and Arab attacks against the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra are bolstering its position hasn’t been borne out. The regime has made some gains, especially around Damascus, but elsewhere it has failed to break the deadlock. Given its heavy reliance on the Alawite minority, a grinding stalemate is to the advantage of its numerically superior enemies.

That is why the Syrian regime and Hezbollah want the Lebanese Army to become more active. If the border remains open, it will make their efforts to defeat the armed groups in Qalamoun even more difficult than they are today. Hezbollah is caught in a quagmire and is taking significant casualties. It was to avert heavy losses that the party initially allowed the rebels to evacuate towns it was attacking in Qalamoun, above Al-Qusayr. But this only ensured that it would fight a grueling guerilla war later on.

The army would make a terrible mistake in coordinating with Assad’s regime, as this would only draw it further into the Syrian mess. Its best option is to contain and manage tensions along the border. But the armed groups should understand that their abduction and murder of Lebanese soldiers and policemen will only push the army into Assad’s arms, while alienating many Lebanese. Extremists in Qalamoun may thrive on this, but the vast majority of anti-Assad rebels have no stake in allowing it.

Perhaps there was something symbolic in the fact that Sayyed relayed the Syrian outlook. There was a time when Syrian opinions were the law in Lebanon. Those days appear to be over and Sayyed’s political fate embodies this. Often the force of a message can be determined by the standing of the messenger.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Israel is in a trap of its own making

Doubtless, it was a shock to many Israelis that the Spanish parliament recognized the state of Palestine – well sort of – on the day that two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem, killing four people. But even if the parliamentary resolution was a watered down version of an earlier proposal, Israeli officials should read the writing on the wall: They are losing the battle of narratives in their conflict with the Palestinians.

The Spanish move came only weeks after the Swedish government recognized a Palestinian state and the British parliament passed a motion urging the government to recognize a Palestinian state alongside Israel, to contribute to a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Seven European Union or Mediterranean countries have already recognized a Palestinian state, and the French parliament is expected to do so soon.

Most of the resolutions are non-binding and have only symbolic value. But Israeli anger at their passage suggests that officials in Israel grasp the underlying message: Israel is increasingly seen as the problem, not as a willing participant in a two-state solution with the Palestinians, so that parliaments throughout Europe feel justified in pushing it in this direction.

The Israeli response has been stupidly arrogant. The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wrote on Facebook that the “Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity.” Yet Israel itself has for decades failed to show any real understanding of, let alone responsibility for or sensitivity to, the deep changes in the Middle East, or the repercussions of its perennial crushing of Palestinian aspirations and abuse and degradation of the Palestinian people.

Most disturbing, successive Israeli governments have found no answer to the numerical challenge posed by a rising Palestinian population whose land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is being gradually reduced by Israeli actions. Before long Israelis will have to determine what to do with a rising Palestinian population in their midst. They cannot expel them, because of the international outcry and because Palestinians could be expected to fight back; they cannot expect the growing Palestinian population to supinely accept being banished to a nominal, fragmented mini-state surrounded by Israel; and they cannot absorb Palestinians, because Israeli Jews do not want to create a demographic time bomb that ultimately transforms them into a minority.

This reality has time and again been raised with Israeli officials, to no avail. The settlement project continues, preposterously defended by Israel as merely “expansions of current settlements.” Israel is systematically seeking to reduce the Arab population of East Jerusalem. And even relations with the Obama administration have been strained, as Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has made no effort to compromise on its settlement plans to facilitate an understanding with Palestinians.

Instead, the Israelis have focused on Palestinian violence or shortcomings to derail progress. They have also benefited from Arab anxieties toward Iran, an enemy Israel shares with many Arab countries, to move ahead with their agenda of annexation.

To a large extent Netanyahu sees a playing field to his advantage. He remains domestically strong and the tensions with Barack Obama are sustainable at a time when the U.S. president is reeling from a Republican drubbing in Congressional elections. Those Republicans are even less likely than their Democratic counterparts to raise the heat on Israel, so that Obama stands alone. Nor has the president, typically, sought to build up a constituency in favor of his position. Like virtually everything he has touched, Obama’s efforts to isolate Netanyahu have been haphazard, half-hearted and utterly ineffective.

The chaos in the Arab world has also helped Netanyahu. Few Israelis watching what is going on all around them today have any impetus to surrender Arab land, not when their withdrawal from Gaza led to successive wars between Israel and Hamas.

In this regard, the Palestinians botched the Gaza pullout. Since the territory was overrun by Hamas in 2007, it has served as much as a political battleground between Palestinian Islamists and Fatah as between Hamas and Israel. On many occasions it was Hamas that provoked a war with the Israelis in order to undermine Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, or to satisfy the regional designs of Iran and Syria.

But under Netanyahu, Hamas and Israel have also had a parallel interest in discrediting a two-state solution in which their leaders do not believe. Netanyahu, though he has had a Palestinian partner willing to adhere to the conditions of a two-state solution, has never missed an occasion to humiliate Abbas and make his position among Palestinians untenable. Netanyahu has continued to say that he believes in peace, but the reality is that his policies and conditions have made peace virtually impossible.

Less and less is the international community willing to go along with this charade. But more important, Israelis themselves have to face the fact that without a mutually acceptable solution to the Palestinian problem, they can only expect years of instability ahead, and almost certainly greater radicalization on both sides. Abbas’ expiration date is rapidly nearing and you can be sure that whoever comes afterward will be far less amenable to reaching a negotiated solution with Israel. Nor can Israeli Jews assume that all will remain well and unchanged with their Arab Israeli countrymen, particularly at a time when the government is demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel is facing a dilemma of significant proportions, and its skill at batting away any and all protests against its policies only makes matters worse. It simply offers no realistic endgame with the Palestinians, and everyone knows this. Until most Israelis agree, they can be sure that their future holds only more violence.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hariri tribunal needs to recapture lost momentum

Last week, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is trying suspects for the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, allowed prosecutors to present evidence on the deteriorating relationship between Mr Hariri and the Syrian regime in 2004-2005.

Defence lawyers described the decision as a major expansion in the Hariri trial. That’s not surprising. Until now those indicted have been five members of Hizbollah, all accused of participating in the crime at the operational level. The initial indictment prepared by Daniel Bellemare, the Canadian former prosecutor of the special tribunal, made no mention of Syria.

This was damaging to the prosecution, because in his indictment Mr Bellemare offered no motive for the killing. There was an assumption in Lebanon that Syria got rid of Hariri because he intended to challenge them in the parliamentary elections of summer 2005, and would probably have won a majority. The tribunal’s decision now allows the prosecution to reinforce its case by bringing in the Syrian angle.

The United Nations investigation of the Hariri assassination went through several permutations of uneven quality. Initially, the UN named an Irish deputy police commissioner, Peter Fitzgerald, to prepare a preliminary report on what happened. On the basis of his findings it then appointed an independent commission to look into the crime more deeply.

Mr Fitzgerald did not directly accuse Syria, but he came as close as he could to doing so. He wrote that security in Lebanon was in Syria’s hands, and that the murder had taken “considerable finance, military precision in its execution, [and] substantial logistical support”. In other words it resulted from a conspiracy that the Syrian and Lebanese security services could hardly have helped noticing. On top of this, he accused pro-Syrian Lebanese officials of trying to cover up the crime scene.

The ensuing UN independent commission was first headed by Detlev Mehlis, a German judge. Like Mr Fitzgerald, he focused on Syrian involvement and interviewed several Syrian intelligence officials in Vienna. It was Mr Mehlis’s view that Syria was behind the assassination, and when he left his post in December 2005, he sought to take Bashar Al Assad’s witness statement, a decision that provoked Syrian anger.

Mr Mehlis was followed by a Belgian judge, Serge Brammertz, who did little to advance the investigation. This was confirmed to me by two senior Lebanese officials and a former UN investigator. Mr Brammertz’s progress reports prompted Mr Mehlis to later tell me that the investigation “had lost all momentum” since the Belgian had taken over.

Indeed, Mr Brammertz appeared to abandon the path of Syrian involvement. He never took Mr Al Assad’s statement, nor did he arrest anyone. Mr Mehlis had been on the verge of arresting Rustom Ghazaleh, who headed Syria’s intelligence apparatus in Lebanon, before deciding to leave this to his successor.

There were also serious doubts about Mr Brammertz’s handling of telecommunications data showing Hizbollah’s involvement in the assassination. A 2010 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary echoed this, revealing that a report prepared by a Lebanese police investigator used telecommunications analysis to point the finger at Hizbollah. The report was misplaced by UN investigators, then rediscovered. Today it serves as the basis for the indictment of the Hizbollah members.

To many, Mr Brammertz was a careerist who grasped that the UN did not want to rock the boat with the Hariri investigation.

However, Mr Brammertz did one thing useful. In a report he provided a hypothesis for the Hariri killing, writing, “there is a layer of perpetrators between those who initially commissioned the crime and the actual perpetrators on the day of the crime, namely those who enabled the crime to occur.”