BEIRUT: Former director of General Security Jamil al-Sayyed said Wednesday that former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s accommodating position toward Syria was the principal reason behind his assassination on Feb. 14, 2005. During his second day giving evidence at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he said Hariri had always been disposed to work with Syria.
According to Sayyed, this angered the backers of United Nations Resolution 1559, which demanded the exit of “foreign forces” – Syria at the time had a significant presence in Lebanon – from the country.
“Hariri was not at any stage in favor of Resolution 1559,” he said. “Hariri’s assassination led to the implementation of this resolution.”
A considerable part of Sayyed’s testimony was devoted to a discussion of the extension of the term for President Emile Lahoud in 2004, which required a change to Lebanon’s Constitution. Syria was supportive of such an extension as Lahoud had traditionally been an ally to Damascus in Lebanon. Sayyed stressed, however, that Syrian officials in Lebanon were “not controlling” Lahoud.
The STL had previously heard evidence in May 2015 from the head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Joumblatt, a former friend and ally of Hariri. Joumblatt told the tribunal that in August 2004, several months before his assassination, Hariri attended a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, where the latter insisted Hariri support the constitutional amendment to extend Lahoud’s term.
“He said that Bashar Assad told him, ‘I want you to extend [the term of Lahoud] and if [French President Jacques] Chirac wants to get me out of Lebanon I will break Lebanon, I will destroy Lebanon,’” Joumblatt said. He told the tribunal the subsequent breakdown in relations between the two leaders led to Hariri’s assassination.
Sayyed rejected the notion such an exchange could have taken place. “For sure this did not happen or I would have known about it,” he said, noting his extensive oversight as head of General Security.
President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re highlighted the comparative weakness of this testimony compared to that of witnesses such as Joumblatt, who claimed to have heard of the meeting directly from someone present.
Sayyed took pains to demonstrate his extensive influence in Lebanon during his tenure as head of General Security. He noted one particular occasion when he was visited by the then-editor of Annahar newspaper Gebran Tueni, who was “constantly against Syria.” Tueni complained Hariri was flexing his financial muscles, threatening to buy further shares in the newspaper to obtain a controlling stake. Sayyed said he contacted an associate who agreed to provide Tueni with the money to see off Hariri’s challenge.
Helping a traditional rival in this way was a tactical decision to moderate his criticism of Syria, Sayyed said. “I did it to make sure he did not go over a ‘ceiling’ of aggression against Syria. ... The way I dealt with [the media] was to make sure they don’t go over that ceiling.”
Much of Sayyed’s testimony Wednesday was spent explaining the relationship between the two countries in the years prior to the implementation of Resolution 1559, with a particular focus on Ghazi Kanaan, Syrian intelligence head in Lebanon, and his successor, Rustom Ghazaleh.
Sayyed made light of the role played by Ghazaleh, and by extension Syria, in Lebanon’s affairs compared to that of his predecessor. He said while Kanaan had the strength to place “friends” in Lebanon’s government, Ghazaleh did not.
“Kanaan was more influential because he had influence over all political figures,” Sayyed said.
“Ghazaleh tried to make up for this with his loud voice but he was a weak personality.”
Sayyed sought to distance himself from claims of being subordinate to Kanaan, noting an event in which he had fired one of his officers who was an ally of Kanaan. He said Kanaan had called Lahoud to request that the latter pressure Sayyed into reinstating the officer, but Sayyed resisted.
While Sayyed said it was “not clear” who carried out an attack on Hariri’s Future TV in 2003 – despite a subsequent confession from a Syrian intelligence officer in 2005 admitting to the attack – he believed the attempted assassination of politician Marwan Hamadeh in 2004 was a political message from Syria’s enemies. It was designed, he said, to make Joumblatt “crazy” and increase the latter’s anti-Syria sentiment. “Joumblatt became the figurehead against Syria,” Sayyed said.
This, he said, indicated the backers of Resolution 1559 had been behind that attack and the subsequent killing of Hariri. “[The resolution] required [Hariri’s] absence from the political scene. ... Had Joumblatt been assassinated and Hariri remained alive, Resolution 1559 would never have been enacted,” he said.
As for who had the motivation to carry out the attacks, “It starts with Israel and ends with the United States,” Sayyed said.