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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Analysis: Kanaan's death was not his choice (updated)

As I said in my previous post, the timing of the apparent suicide is very telling. Let’s try to connect the dots.

Backdrop: The Syrian regime begins a media offensive against Lebanon and certain Lebanese officials, accusing them of selling out to foreign powers and misleading the public and the investigation, etc. It is hard not to include, as part of this huge disinformation campaign, the leaks to As-Safir from “informed sources in Washington”, suggesting that Mehlis has little in terms of concrete evidence implicating the Syrian leadership directly (SANA loves to quote as-Safir these days). File under this Franjieh’s recent re-emergence after a long absence to propagate these same claims and question the credibility of the investigation.

The NTV Report

I am tempted to link this campaign to the allegations that NTV made against Hariri and Kenaan. And I will because the report could have been written by Rustom Ghazaleh himself (I know Khayat had his problems with the latter, but have you seen the report?)

The report starts with an introduction that sets up the theme of the story, which is that the Lebanese investigators have overlooked what the Syrians, through an “exercise of sovereignty”, didn’t.

In form and content, Syria realized its sovereignty and imposed its conditions on the international investigation. A camera was focused on the interrogator, and another on the interrogated. The interrogations were conducted in the presence of two judges and Riad Dawoodi, the foreign ministry advisor.

The NTV report then goes on to detail how Kanaan, who allegedly was interviewed not by Mehlis but by other members of the UN team, showed up with a box of checks made out to himself and others and signed by Rafik Hariri. Kanaan immediately volunteers to the investigator the following:

I was Lebanon’s ruler for a long time, if you ask me about corruption and briberies, yes, I took part in it. I used to receive checks and distribute them to Lebanese and Syrians. I never forgot to keep copies. This box is full of them but pay attention, they all carry Rafik Hariri’s signature. Why kill the guy if we benefited so much from him?

Have you heard of the 2000 [election] law? Not only did I make it, and they called it the Ghazi Kanaan law, but I took 10 million USD for it, and so did Jamil al-Sayyed. The law was written to fit the politicians who benefited from it."

Interestingly, the report also mentions Rustom Ghazaleh who, according to the report, not only does not deny his involvement in the Madina bank scandal, but also names all his accomplices.

The NTV report continues:

So Mehlis returns with confessions about the blackmail that was practiced in Lebanon, and the corruption, but not a single word incriminating the [Syrian] officers. The Syrian president takes the tapes and flies to Egypt and tells Mubarak: Here are the confessions of our officers. They are innocent, and will not surrender any of them. Will Syria’s international story end?
In other words, the report seems to suggest that Syria is innocent of the crime, that Lebanon was being run by corrupt Lebanese and Syrian officials, that Mehlis has nothing on Syria and that he should really be focusing on Hariri’s and Lebanon's corruption history, possibly as reasons for the assassination.

In the absence of official Syrian denunciation of this report (why would they? It’s their best defense so far and I have no doubt in my mind that someone in the Syrian or Lahoud regime developed it for them), Kanaan chose Warde, of all people, on Voice of Lebanon to air his denial and urged her to forward it to Pierre Daher of LBC and to Future TV and NBN.

I chose you Warde because I know your objectivity and your positive role, which
served the Christians and the Lebanese and media objectivity.

After defending his record in Lebanon (“we gave and took from all the honorables in Lebanon,” he said), he questioned NTV’s motives:

What are the motives of this station? Are they motives at all or mere recollection of past loathing (towards Hariri)? Did someone set up a trap for the channel by feeding it this poison?

We all know that Lebanon was and still is rife with corruption. But does this explain murder?

Motive for Suicide

The “leak” that informed this report, in my opinion, was designed as a motive for suicide. Pro-Syrian Ad-Diyar is already reporting that Kanaan’s family is looking for a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Mehlis, for allegedly leaking “falsified information to the press that pushed Kanaan into committing suicide in defense of his pride and dignity as an officer and an official.”

I find it hard to believe that Kanaan would kill himself over something he believed was false. Even if it were true, why would an official admit something like that to a foreign investigator? And if he did it to defend Syria, as the report suggested, would he then kill himself?

The timing of the suicide, conveniently right after the NTV report and the denial, implies that death was not his choice. Some are suggesting that he might have killed himself because he discovered he was going to be sacrificed as part of a deal with the Americans. So did he interpret that NTV story as a sign his death was being requested?

In any case, his death cost Syria nothing, deal or not. Kanaan was pronounced dead a long time ago. It started in 2002, peaked with Hariri’s assassination and reached the climax when NTV broadcast those claims. Many had expected Rustom Ghazaleh to be the one to go. There were even reports that he was depressed and contemplating suicide. But somehow we forgot the Syrian political context that began with the gradual marginalization and sidelining of the old guard (remember Khaddam’s exit during the last Baath congress), and Rustom’s status and relationship not necessarily to Bashar, but to whoever is calling the shots.

Some have suggested Kanaan was being touted as an alternative to Bashar, so they got rid of him. Some are also saying that he was Mehlis’s secret witness. This is all speculation, and only time will tell.

What we can ascertain at this point is that Kanaan’s death was the cheapest of alternatives to Syria given the trouble they’re in. Talk about deals all you want, but Kanaan’s death, if proven to be an assisted suicide, indicates that Syria is still playing it short-sighted, slow and one small concession at a time. Good "game" playing? We will know soon.

Update. It's confirmed, the Syrian foreign minister is holding the media and the "Mehlis leaks" responsible for Kanaan's suicide. This confirms my above analysis that the NTV report was supposed to provide the final suicide motive.

Update 2. Al-Seyassah today is saying that the Syrian ruling four, Bashar, Maher, Asaf Shawkat and Assad's mother, Anissa, had decided in a meeting held 3 days ago to use Kanaan, Ghazaleh, Mohammad Khallouf and Jamaa Jamaa as scapegoats. Kanaan was eliminated, according to the Kuwaiti paper, because he knew too much about the Syrian leadership's involvement and because he was preparing a military coup. I need more to be convinced of this. Was he that strong and capable? Issam in a comment on this post mentions Kanaan's close relationship with Ali Duba, the director military intelligence until 2000.

Update 3. Joshua Landis has a good post on why "Ghazi Kanaan's death was not related to the Mehlis report or Lebanon-Syria relations." He quotes the New York Times as saying that the Mehlis people didn't even consider him a suspect in the Hariri murder investigation. I agree, but only in the sense that Kanaan's death cannot be seen through the Lebanese and Mehlis investigation prism. We have to look at the big picture, what Syria's predicament is (think Iraq, Arab-Israeli struggle and Lebanon) and what alternatives it has right now. Kanaan was weakening their position and providing them with an alternative they did not want to consider. Analyze this however you want.

Update 4. Robert Fisk reminds us of how brutal Kanaan was.

He had power and he used it. When Hizbollah fighters attacked a company of Syrian troops in Beirut, he sent his men to storm one of their social halls and shot every one inside, including at least two Lebanese women. Their corpses were heaped on a Syrian army truck and driven slowly through the streets of the Beirut suburb of Basta for the population to see. You didn’t mess with Ghazi Kenaan.

And he didn’t seem to be the sort of man to commit suicide, which is what the Syrians claimed he had done yesterday.

Update 5. Reuters has this analysis.

I wonder if it would ever be "proven to be an assisted suicide", especially since syrian authorities are conducting the "necessary investigations", unless ... I'm tempted to go into conspiracy theories, but as you say, "only time will tell".

Thanks for the NTV report link.
Thanks for the information!

You know, this reminds me of those Hollywood movies. After watching the movie you'd be thinking, "whatever".
Excellent post Kais. The one dot you left out was the Iraqi one.

Was Kaanan as interior Minister cultivating a relationship with Iraqi Baathists in Syria and was his death a signal to the Americans that Assad was about to play his most important card with the Americans.

Kaanan was a protégé of Ali Duba , Director of Military intelligence in Syria from 1974-2000. Kaanan has many associates and supporters and if his death was an assisted suicide then we can expect more Mafia style killings in Syria as others seek revenge or take the offence in their defence.

Grace you are right this is very dramatic and plays like the Godfather.

Tks for the post Kais. And for mentioning Landis's good post, following his good post of 2 days ago (coup unlikely in Syria), his good post of yesterday (Kanaan could have lead a coup in Syria). I will be eagerly awaiting tomorrow's good post from the uber-expert: Kanaan death related to Mehlis.

Kais, as Landis said (although he left it out in his first post on the coup possibility), Ghazi was the perfect candidate to lead a coup, if indeed he considered doing that. He had ties in the intelligence, the military, the Alawaite community, the big Sunni guys, etc.

If I were a thug like Bashar and his family, in the situation they're in now, I would've done the same. If he indeed killed himself (under what circumstance?) or not, is secondary to me.
So if killing Kanaan was to avert a possible coup led by him, then all talk of scapegoating is unfounded. Do we keep making the mistake of thinking Syria is willing to offer scapegoats. I mean, are there signs that Syria can even afford to do that?

Here's another theory: the regime wants to offer scapegoats (or have the option of doing so), but first it needs to make sure something like that (would basically be a confession) wouldn't play into the hands of someone like Kanaan, who could have used that confession of guilt to justify regime change and lead a coup. It's a game of survival, really.
I think the biggest mistake we make is to think of these thugs as "rational actors." By that I don't mean to imply that they're "crazy" or "irrational," but that they operate on instinct more than anything else. Secondly, we have to remove the traditional aura of "infallibility" and "far-sightedness" that we have come to associate with them because they had control over our lives for so long.

I mean this is all speculation, whether the coup, or attempting to remove someone that could turn on you and rat you out, or try to float him out as a trial balloon, or send a message of petty defiance, or all the above... who knows? Michael Young put it well and you seem to agree here that Syria is in such a pickle that if it doesn't do anything it risks being taken by surprise (again, instincts), and if it does, it risks looking even more guilty... that's why I said, we shouldn't approach it always as "rational action."
"Robert Fisk reminds us of how brutal Kanaan was"

Oh we didn't forget, I am positive about that.

Remember this testimony? It was first published on tayyar and solide, I had problem finding it back.

Issam you raised an interesting point. Which reminds me that Assad did a lot of ass-licking to the Americans during the interview with Amanpour.
Vox, would you be so kind s to explain to me what that "interesting point" is?
That Assad interview was an exercise in stupidity. Assad thinks we (and the Americans) are stupid to buy his "logical reasoning" (the bit about being or not being a dictator). As if that's how countries are run, by pretending you won a game of logic when what you really need to do is make sure your people are well and your actions are not adding to their misery. That's typical Arab dictator style- they think their job is to appear smart before their interviewers. Not once do they think about matching their good and self-centered idealistic words with good deeds towards their own people.

For that, I don't think Assad has fooled anyone other than his western educated advisors who must think they have it all figured out. In any case, and as far as the Americans are concerned, Assad is lousy in bed and ass-licking is far beyond his level.
I have heard - although I haven't personally seen this - that in an interview with Al jazeera, Farouk Sharaa had a freudian slip when he said "assassination", and then corrected himself with "suicide".
Tony, the fact that Kanaan has good relations with Iraqi Baathi is interesting (I don't know if it's true, I assume that Issam's info is reliable). I don't believe that his death has anything to do with this, I made that clear on several blog including yours. Clearly the Americans have no interest in eliminating a potential alternative to Bashar.

For the ass-licking part, don't get me wrong. I would really love Syria to have a constructive relationship with the USA. I used the term ass-licking because Bashar was exasperating in this interview. He praises the US people in front of the Camera and promotes terrorism in the region.
I only wanted to emphasize his duplicity.

Christiane Amanpour wasn't tough enough on him. I am awar that there's limit on what she can say to him but I'd love to see Bashar on BBC hard talk one of these days!
Lazarus, according to Naharnet, Sharaa had two slips (only corrected himself the second time), the public prosecutor one. Hmmm.
Vox , the kiss of death was America's freezing of Kaanan's assets along with Ghazli's. That was the signal for his elimination and scapegoating. The Americans do not have at this point any suitable alternative to Bashar.

Kaanan was the most prominent and powerful man left from Hafez's generation and if there was going to be any serious policy changes in a deal with the US then he would have to removed from power.

He was not the Syrian Musharaf because of all his baggage and US censure . Also, I do not believe he was involved with Hariri's assassination. He will be the US and Syria's scapegoat.

I think the deal has been done to extend Bashar's franchise for a limited time until a replacement can be found.

Assad will be consolidating his power further. Sharaa is next on the list and his slips were not accidental

Ghazi is still alive... for now.
Sorry I meant Rustom
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