- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
All eyes in the Middle East are on Iran, but it may be Lebanon that is closer to war. On Sunday, the former head of Lebanese General Security, Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, announced that he had been informed by his lawyer that a Damascus court had issued arrest warrants for 33 figures for misleading the international tribunal charged with bringing the killers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to justice. One of those individuals was a former chief investigator of the U.N.-led investigation itself, Detlev Mehlis. But in comments to Foreign Policy, Mehlis poured cold water over the truth of Sayyed’s claims, and suggested that he has no intention of backing down from his work in Lebanon.
Sayyed has a particular axe to grind in this case: He was imprisoned for over four years on suspicion of being involved in Hariri’s killing. And the man partially responsible for putting him behind bars was none other than Mehlis, who asked Lebanese authorities to arrest him along with three other pro-Syrian generals.
"I should mention that I am not aware of any investigation against myself and members of my previous UNIIIC-team anywhere in the world," Mehlis said. "I realize that Mr. Sayyed has brought up the story of an arrest warrant, just as he brought up the story of a French arrest warrant a year ago, and I do not believe a word of what he is saying. "
The Syrian government has so far yet to confirm whether an arrest warrant has been issued. But even if one has, Mehlis left little doubt about the opinion of such a document. "If indeed there is a Syrian arrest warrant, it would be baseless, illegal, and politically motivated, without any practical implications," he said.
As the showdown over the tribunal heats up, Mehlis’s work has been fiercely attacked by the court’s critics in an attempt to discredit the entire enterprise. As Syria and Hezbollah attempt to use their increased leverage within Lebanon to scuttle the court entirely, there is no doubt that such condemnations will continue. The only real question is whether anyone will speak out against them.