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The United States is calling for urgent UN Security Council action following a UN report implicating senior Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14. That such action is warranted should go without saying. It is critical that this become just the first step on a long road toward holding rogue states accountable for egregious acts of international aggression.
The investigation was headed by a German prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, with 25 years of experience in resolving high-profile terror cases. His probe, which employed 30 investigators and 70 staff for four months, built on an earlier Lebanese investigation and drew upon extensive evidence from witnesses, phone records, and other sources. As British Foreign Minister Jack Straw reacted, "you cannot leave a report like this on the table." The report admits that it does not necessarily constitute a substitute for an independent court of law. What it does do, finally, is break through the veil of "plausible deniability" that rogue states have used to cover their crimes, with the effective cooperation of the international community.
Just as everyone, including every Western intelligence agency, knows full well that it is virtually certain that the Syrian government is complicit in the Hariri assassination, everyone knows the same regime has for years supported terrorism as an integral component of government policy.
One does not need a UN prosecutor, for example, to determine that aircraft laden with weapons from Teheran were, for years, landing in Damascus. From there, the weapons would be ferried through the Syrian-controlled Bekaa valley to Hizbullah. Nor does one need a team of crack investigators to determine that Syria has hosted the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as those groups pummeled Israeli civilians with suicide bombings and attempted to torpedo any move toward moderation by the Palestinian Authority.
Indeed, it is perhaps the fact that the Syrian regime was able to get away with such brazen acts of international aggression for so many years that led it to believe that the West would turn a blind eye to the assassination of Hariri and its support for the terrorists who have murdered so many Iraqis.
The Mehlis report may well, and should, have immediate consequences, such as the end of the pro-Syrian government of Emile Lahoud in Beirut, and the imposition of stiff Security Council sanctions against Damascus until the regime ends all of its support for terrorism - in Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq. But the real test is if it marks a broader shift of the international community toward refusing to tolerate states using terrorism as an instrument of national policy.
The United States and Israel know full well that Iran and Syria have for years either supported or directly organized terror attacks and bombings against the military personnel of both countries. The level of evidence implicating these regimes in such barbaric acts must, in some instances, be no less than that implicating the Syrian regime in the Hariri case. Yet the United States, let alone Israel, has never - except in the Lockerbie case against Libya - bothered taking these regimes to court, so to speak, in the Security Council.
We and the United States have never bothered because we knew that the forum that was created to protect innocent nations against international aggression instead could be counted on to protect the aggressors themselves. The critical question now is whether this situation is finally changing.
The significance of the Mehlis report is that it shows how, given an international climate of decreasing tolerance for terrorism, victimized nations can puncture the thin veil of deniability and doubt that has protected aggressor regimes until now. It says that the West will not wait for the level of proof required by a criminal court before pointing an accusing finger and acting to protect itself.
Syrian protestations regarding flimsy evidence and the presumption of innocence are, of course, risible coming from a brutal police state whose idea of justice has infamously included carpet-bombing its own citizens. Yet the fact that the regime would even attempt such a defense shows that it still believes that there are no limits to Western gullibility and weakness. This time, we hope, Damascus may have taken its "misunderestimation" of the international community one step too far.
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