The much-maligned witness Zuheir al-Siddiq called New TV last night to claim possession of evidence incriminating Syrian officials in the 2005 Rafik Hariri assassination. Al-Siddiq's fall from grace and subsequent labeling as "false witness" contributed to even Saad Hariri going back on accusing Assad's regime of killing his father, with the media pointing the finger instead at rogue Hizbullah elements.
With so many "leaks" these days, it is hard to ascertain what's real and what's not. But the timing of al-Siddiq's audio recordings, some of which he played live on TV, is interesting, and coincides with what seems to be a Saudi-Hariri awakening to Syria's destructive role in Lebanon.
Al-Siddiq's tapes reportedly reveal Rustom Ghazaleh's, Syria's former "high commissioner" in Lebanon, role in planning the assassination. Though he did not name him, Al-Siddiq played a conversation between what media reports identified as Ghazaleh and one of his subordinates about their failure to convince Ahmad Abu Adas to carry out a suicide attack against Hariri's convoy.
Abu Adas, for those of you who don't remember him, was the man who appeared in the official video that was sent to Aljazeera claiming responsibility for the Hariri killing. The UN commission said repeatedly that there was no evidence linking Abu Adas to the attack.
In the recording, a Ghazaleh subordinate complained that Abu Adas refused to carry out the operation because Hariri is "Muslim". Abu Adas wanted instead to attack Americans in Iraq, according to the low ranking officer. Ghazeleh responded, "Did you tell the animal that Rafik Hariri is an infidel… We have to see about someone from al-Ahbash or Kanso's people. This Abu Adas appears to be a coward".
At this point, Ghazaleh received a phone call, after which he declared, "I am off to see Colonel Maher [Assad]". Responding to a question from the low ranking officer about what to do with "low life Abu Adas", Ghazaleh said, "take him back to his cell until I return".
Al-Siddiq claimed he has a video showing the torture Abu Adas was subjected to for refusing to carry out the suicide attack. When he told the Syrian PM about the plot and asked that the responsible be held accountable, the PM dispatched someone to kill him, claimed al-Siddiq.
In total, al-Siddiq said he has 7 recordings that he will hand over to the tribunal.
Interestingly, al-Siddiq accused Saad Hariri of manipulating him to get him to return to Beirut. New TV, some of you might know, had been airing edited segments of taped conversations between al-Siddiq, Hariri and the head of the ISF's information branch Wissam Hassan, in the presence of UN investigators. The channel, owned by a fiercely anti-Hariri millionaire, sought to imply that Hariri manipulated/forged evidence. During the phone call, al-Siddiq acknowledged that he met Hariri and Hassan at the UN's request, but added that they never believed his story.
Despite al-Siddiq's questionable motives and odd behavior over the past few years, the recordings should put the spotlight back on Syria's involvement in the Hariri killing, which for some time was forgotten at the expense of many Lebanese players, including, ironically, Hizbullah.
Al-Siddiq's revelations serve as an important if not painful reminder that two should play the game. One wonders if Hariri regrets tagging along Saudi Arabia's attempt to separate Syria from Iran by exonerating the Assad regime so early in the game. With Najib Mikati, a man Hariri added to his electoral list in Tripoli by dumping March 14 loyalist Musbah al-Ahdab, is now being positioned by Hizbullah and the Assad regime as an alternative Sunni leader.
Hariri dumped some of his Sunni and other allies in the 2009 elections in the name of Saudi-Syrian reconciliation, Ahdab being one of them. Now that Mikati, who has just returned from an unannounced visit to Damascus, is paying Hariri back by running against him, Saad and March 14 should learn that repeating the same mistakes over and over again (in the name of compromise) will not bring truth or save Lebanon.