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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Hariri assassination and the Syrian stabilizers

Those of you following the news of the investigation already know the story of the Syrian defector who provided Mehlis with information on the explosives used in the blast that killed Hariri. The defector, who managed the office of the former Syrian army intelligency chief (who was replaced immediately after the Hariri assassination), told the German prosecutor that Syria procured the RDX explosives from a company in Slovakia, through a Syrian businessman with close ties to Syrian intelligence.

Der Spiegel on 5 September added this piece to the "puzzle":

According to new information, a unit of the Syrian intelligence service stationed in Lebanon at the time of the murder could have been involved in the attack, but without the knowledge of Presidents Assad or Lahoud. Lahoud, who is said to have been filled in on the details after the murder, subsequently attempted to flee to France, but was turned away by French authorities.

Mehlis' final report will likely play a role in determining Lahoud's fate -- and possibly even the future of the Assad regime. That's because the report by Mehlis, who plans to meet with Syrian intelligence officials in Damascus soon, will play a key role in determining the UN Security Council's next steps against Syria. The Americans, in particular, are pushing for sanctions.

However, neither Mehlis nor his investigators believe that the Lebanese agents ever came into direct contact with the bomb, and they are now looking for supporters. "Those who were arrested," says Mehlis, "are only part of the puzzle."

Today I happened to read Bashar's recent interview with the same German magazine. It was disheartening how much his rhetoric has changed over the years- from a young president with possibly real desire for change into a dictator with a strange kind of pragmatism mixed with fear and poor excuses for oppression. Here are excerpts from the interview:

SPIEGEL: Many politicians in neighboring Lebanon blame your government for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Some have even said that the two of you had a loud argument the last time he was in Damascus.

Assad: And some have even said I threatened him. Others claimed a security agent pointed his pistol at Hariri's head. That's simply ridiculous. In that conversation, we discussed extending the term of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. It's obvious that Hariri was against the idea. So I told him: "We don't want to pressure you. Go back to Lebanon and then give us your decision." He told us a few days later that he agreed with the plan. Why should Syria kill someone with whom it has no differences of opinion? It doesn't make any sense at all. In truth, we Syrians are the ones who ended up suffering the greatest drawbacks as a result of this affair.

SPIEGEL: Can you really completely rule out the possibility that neither your intelligence services nor any other Syrian is involved?

Assad: I'm absolutely certain. That kind of plan requires the cooperation
of several individuals and organizations. If this cooperation had existed, we
would have known about it.

Hariri agreed with "the plan"? What plan? The Syrian-imposed plan on a country with no sovereignty? Assad has no shame in admitting he concocted a plan for an extension of the president's term and shared it with Hariri who then, after years of opposition, magically agreed overnnight to the terms.

A colleague of mine asked me the other day if I thought Assad would pull a Qadhafi and hand in the culprits like the Libyan dictator did in the Lockerbie case. I said I didn't think so-- Assad is still maintaining the innocence of his people.

One guess, and I hope I'm wrong, is Assad is trying to pull an Ariel Sharon. Sharon planned and then played dumb in Sabra and Shatila. He wanted to send a terror message to the Palestinians and the international community. Assad, still adjusting to his dictator status, wanted, or somebody wanted for him, to establish a balance of terror, naively thinking that he could bring the US to its knees in Iraq and Lebanon.

All this might be pure speculation. But I just don't buy his innocence. But perhaps there is more to this. Read the first part of the interview. You will notice a lot of talk about "stability."

Assad: When we put someone on trial, we're not trying him as a person. Instead, what concerns us is that he does not attack the population's religious and ethnic structure. The umbrella of stability must not be damaged. We gave the go-ahead for the formation of parties two months ago, and we are currently taking a very close look at these parties. I certainly don't dispute the contention that we do not have a well-developed system of political parties yet. I simply wanted to show you where we have to be cautious.

SPIEGEL: What exactly are you afraid of?

Assad: Developments like those in Algeria since 1991. At that time, the government misjudged the people, and the Islamists threatened to assume power. To this day, the Algerians are paying the price for this miscalculation with their own blood.

SPIEGEL: Look at the example of Riad Seif, a self-made businessman and member of the Syrian National Assembly. He criticized the omnipotence of the monopoly and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Assad: He questioned the unity of the nation, and we happen to have a law that calls for penalties for those who assail the mosaic of the various ethnic and religious groups.

Assad concluded the interview with this:

Assad: Once again, we cannot apply Western standards to development in the orient. In Germany, you may have a religious Christian party, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union), but it has effectively assimilated itself into the fabric of the country. In return, your history prevents you from having any large nationalist parties. Our experience has shown us that the situation in Syria became stable because the entire society is secular. We must preserve that.

Read preserving a stable and "secular" society as preserving an Alawite controlled state. The army and religion are red lines. Syria cannot afford to be a democracy, because as in Iraq, the centre of power that is the ruling party will collapse. Syria cannot afford to admit to murder, because unlike Libya, this would destablize the minority rule over the majority.

It will be an interesting exercise to try to place the Hariri assassination into this context of Syrian "stability." Lahoud, to Bashar, was a stable and reliable ally. Hariri had to be reigned in on many occasions. The Christians were too weak to mount a challenge (and Aoun's conversion was a major achievement in that regard to reign in the Maronites and turn them against Hariri and Jumblatt). The Jumblatt-Hariri combination was a source of instability for the Syrian stabilizers. There was probably this calculation that killing Hariri won't be any worse than the killing of Kamal Jumblatt and Bashir Gemayel (question mark here on who really killed him).

Did the Syrians mess up and shoot themselves in the foot when they got rid of Lebanon's only real bridge to the west? History and Mehlis will tell. In the meantime, don't expect Bashar to admit to the murder or willingly implicate any of his people- his people being the Alawite controlled Baath, the "new guard". After all, the "stability" of his rule depends on it.

I know it was only a small point in your post, but do you think Sharon planned Sabra and Chatila?

It's always seemed more of a Bachir/Hobeiqa thing that Israel let happen to me.
However, the Israeli panel did blame Sharon.
Many Maronites have made it clear that Sabra and Chatila was a response to Damour. The Israeli message for the Palestinians was the invasion and kicking out Arafat.
ha, don't get me started on Sabra and Shatila-- it was the subject of my thesis and I've done a lot of original research on it. Yes, Sharon not only planned it, but he handpicked the killers who included thugs from the LF, Guardians of the cedar, Tigers and Saad Haddad's FLA. The anniversary of the massacre is next Friday- I will post a long essay sometime next week. It should make for an interesting discussion.
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