Thursday, February 17, 2005

Disarray in Syrian Ranks Leads to Crisis

“The decision to extend President Emile Lahoud’s term was taken by the Asad family itself.”

So said a smart diplomat when we met yesterday to discuss the crisis. “We know that,” he said.” Vice President Khaddam and Interior Minister Canaan – Syria’s most knowledgeable Lebanon hands who long handled the Lebanon portfolio – recommended against extending Lahoud’s term and manipulating the Lebanese constitution as if it were the Syrian constitution. “They were over-ruled by the Asad family itself,” the diplomat said. The decision turned out to be a fateful one, for it set Syria on its recent collision course with Lebanon.

Why the young Asad brother and cousins decided they could do without the advice of “the Old Guard” is where conjecture and speculation begin.

One Syrian general, reflecting on the mess Syria finds itself in since the Hariri murder, wondered how his government could have gotten so out of touch with the political pulse in Lebanon to make such ill-fated decisions. In the end, he said:

“We made many, many mistakes in Lebanon. Do you know how much a Lebanese car cost in Syria during the war? 2,500 Syrian pounds at the border. Imagine, 2,500 SYRIAN pounds! (The equivalent of 400 dollars.) And that was a Mercedes. Every officer stole what he wanted. That’s what happens in war. Syria was filled with Lebanese cars. And for every one of those cars, there is a Lebanese family who hates Syria.”

“It wasn’t just cars,” he added. “Soldiers filled trucks with kitchen tiles, faucets, perfume, bathtubs, you name it, and drove them back to Syria. It was easy for them. They had guns. Who was going to say no to them?”

“But Syria paid a heavy price for stopping the civil war in Lebanon,” he added, perhaps in an attempt to explain that things are never as simple as they seem. “My youngest brother was killed in Lebanon.” He paused. “It was 1976. Six were killed in a tank. He left eight children…. Do you know how he was returned to us? They brought the bodies back to Damascus and put them on a gas truck – just an ordinary gas truck – and delivered them to the villages. There was no officer in the truck, just a regular soldier without rank, wearing dusty fatigues. The government didn’t send anyone in a proper uniform to say ‘Thank you for your sacrifice, and for fighting for your country.’ But I told my brother when we buried him, ‘Muhsin, thank you. You died to help the Lebanese and to bring peace.’ I still believe that today…. We made many mistakes. The Lebanese were grateful at first, but that was many years ago.”

But such explanations don’t help us understand the recent series of miscalculations beginning with the extension of Lahoud’s presidency that have inflamed Lebanese opinion and led Syria into its recent crisis.

The diplomat I spoke with believes the reason the Asad family overruled the older generation of experienced Lebanon hands was that family members such as Bashar’s brother Maher and his cousin Rami Makhlouf had important business dealings in Lebanon which depended on Lahoud. “They needed Lahoud to stay for their own interests,” he said. “The family members were pushing for his retention. Perhaps they were trying to create their own Lebanon policy and side-line the ‘old guard,’” he added. “Maybe Bashar went along because he is trying to create his own base of power?”

This is where the speculation within the diplomatic community begins to veer off into a number of directions. The diplomat, then concluded, “There doesn’t seem to be anyone at the top with a real sense of long-term strategy for Syria’s foreign policy. It is being patched together for reasons which are hard to figure. In the past, Hafiz al-Asad was the strategist. He had a clear vision of what Syria’s ultimate goals should be. Today, it is not clear where Syria is headed or why decisions are being made.”

The theory that the Asad family made the decision to extend Lahoud’s presidency at the last minute jives with Hariri’s own version of events. The Daily Star yesterday ran an interview with Hariri given to a Lebanese reporter the day before his death. He had spoken off the record on a number of topics, but the reporter broke with journalistic protocol because of Hariri’s assassination and wrote up the entire conversation. Hariri explained that he had “gone into opposition the moment Lahoud’s term was extended.” He explained how he had been completely blind-sided by the decision. Bashar al-Asad himself had called Hariri to a meeting in Damascus and told him that Lahoud’s term would be extended and effectively ordered him to ease the passage through parliament. Hariri said that Bashar did not consult him beforehand or ask his opinion on the matter. He was told what to do. The meeting lasted only 10 minutes. For Hariri, this was a Rubicon.

Undoubtedly, Hariri’s friends in Damascus, such as Khaddam, had not prepared him for the Asad meeting. Hariri was understandably incensed to be taken so off-guard and cut out of the decision-making process. From what the diplomat explained to me, we can conclude that the reason Khaddam could not warn him or bring him into the decision-making process was because Khaddam himself did not believe that Lahoud would be kept on. Perhaps he and other “old guard” advisors had assured Hariri that Syria would do no such thing. The Syrian government had, after all, announced only weeks before the elections were to take place that it would not interfere. In all likelihood, Hariri had been assured by his “old guard” Syrian friends that the presidential election would go forward without Lahoud. Clearly, Hariri was used to knowing and being consulted about such momentous decisions before the fact. The Asad overrule and disarray within the Syrian chain of command drove Hariri into the opposition. Eventual, it led to his death.

But could the Syrian President have ordered Hariri’s assassination? No one here will say that, and I don’t think they believe it. It is not consistent with his character or policies. The consequences of Hariri’s murder are too devastating for Syria for such a decision to make sense.

So what can we learn from this?

1. So far there is nothing to point to the Syrian president having foreknowledge of Hariri’s assassination.

2. The “old guard,” were not always bad. They understood Lebanese sensibilities and Syrian strategic interests better than the new guard – or at least, better than many close to the president.

3. There is tension between old and new guard over foreign policy, which has caused disarray in Syria’s decision making process. It led directly to the mishandling of Syria’s relationship with Lebanon and the extension of Lahoud’s presidency. It caused Syria to burn its bridges with Hariri and pushed him into the “opposition,” where he was uncomfortable and did not want to be.

4. Could Hariri have been killed by someone high up in the Lebanese government and also possibly a business enemy? Quite possibly. Could they have opened a back door with people in Syria? Also possible. There is a lot of money being made in Lebanon by both Lebanese and Syrians, which depends on government power, contracts, and corruption.

5. Could Bashar not know about this? Only if there is disarray in the uppermost ranks of the government.


At 2/17/2005 07:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disarray could be a reason above all other reasons. The problem is that Hafez Assad was the mastermind of all strategic and tactical decisions, all others would only execute his orders and visions and now Bashar wants them to take decisions by themselves. The old & new guard theory seems to be still popular and promoted but it simply is not true. All symbols of the old guard who could cause a threat to Bashar's authority were eliminated from power before Bashar's presidency so he doesn't need to prove that he is in power because he really is.

At 2/17/2005 07:58:00 AM, Blogger praktike said...

Is it possible that this "old guard" is laying out a rationale for a coup?

At 2/17/2005 07:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leila Abu-Saba here - thanks again for this analysis.

In a healthy democracy, the leaders would be held accountable for this. I would love to see the guys you describe lose their jobs.

Unfortunately, in real life, the innocent will probably suffer terribly for the crimes of their leaders.

As a woman, a mother, a lover of cities and the natural world, an artist, and a Christian, I hope for peaceful reform. (and a peaceful withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon, which as you reported last year, was in the works) I'm still in mourning for Hariri and for Lebanon, but I have hope that this crisis could possibly lead to some good, for Lebanon and for Syria.

Good does not mean bombing cities, invading the country, destroying its libraries and antiquities, unleashing foreign consultants upon its institutions and foreign mercenaries upon its citizens.

At 2/17/2005 09:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This "new guard stupidity" theory seems to be the most plausible explanation for the Hariri assassination I have heard so far. I would go further and speculate that Bashar has already made his decision to withdraw from Lebanon but is trying to get "something" in return from the Americans, possibly a partial Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. Could it be that Maher Assad, Rami Makhlouf and their Lebanese associates were behind the Hariri assassination as a desperate attempt to pre-empt Bashar from going along with his decision? Knowing very well that the US will use this assassination as an excuse for not giving Bashar any face-saving quid-pro-quo in the Golan, Bashar's only knee-jerk reaction would be to stubbornly insist on remaining in Lebanon until he is kicked out by the inevitable Tsunami of "regime-change" that is bound to devastate the entire Middle East. The bottom line: the stupid and narrow-minded mafia-style decisions of Maher and Rami and other Syro-Lebanese mafia associates will deliver Syria to the US/Israeli alliance on a silver platter, the same way Saddam's stupidity to invade Kuwait in 1990 delivered Iraq in 2003!! Whether rule by US/Israel or the Syro-Lebanese mafia, the future looks very bleak indeed for both Syria and Lebanon and maybe for the entire region.

Signed: An eternal Syrian optimist who has finally lost hope!

At 2/17/2005 10:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of curiousity: does this Maher-Rami or syro-lebo mafio theory have any evidence either than the diplomat's word for it?

At 2/17/2005 02:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Josh,

Check the two links here below. Both of them are similar but one link is in english and the other one is in Arabic. Both articles are based on Elaph website. You may have problems accessing Elaph website in Syria. It seems that Elaph website is a threat to security in Syria.

To be short, both articles support the theory that Hariri was killed by bomb planted in the sewage system. Proof comes with pics and a thorough explanation.

At 2/17/2005 07:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here you are Dr. Joshua, now you are on the right track.
Keep digging this way if you are really interested, you will find explanations to many other things around you there. (Some more relations should be of interest, ex: Naseef vs. Asef)

At 2/17/2005 10:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog! The Syrian Regime, or at least some elements in the uppermost echelons , is behind assasination.Simply put,there's too much money at stake for the mafia.This time, however,they were totally blinded by their greed.This will only hasten the long awaited and long overdue regime change,INSHALLAH!!!

At 2/18/2005 03:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For credibility, we would need an example of these alleged business interests that could only survive if Lahoud is in power and further would benefit from Harari's death. It is no secret that most of the Syrian private capital is kept in Lebanese banks: Few years back, Lebanese media attacked a well know Syrian businessman (Saeb Nahaas) because he announced that Lebanese economy will be severely effected once the Syrian money goes back to Syrian banks. Moreover, one of the applied procedures by Syrian central bank to support the stability of Syrian Lira(pound) is to buy off Syrian currency from Lebanese markets. This is only one indication of who is benefiting from the other.

At 2/18/2005 07:26:00 AM, Anonymous JT said...

I've a conspiracy theory and I would like to share it with you.
I will mention some points and then use your imagination and your mind to tie them.
1. The great middle east.
2. Sylvan Shalom said that Lebanon will be the 3rd country will make peace with Isreal.
3. Hariri limits is al Taief agreement (as he said).
4. Amin al Jmaieell (ex president), said that they will blow up al Taied agreement
(note from me: put any number of lines under this item)
5. Resulotion 1559
6. Maronites don't like Hezbuallah.
7. This assassination uses a Hi-Tech methods (I think something like GPS or PPS), which Syrians
ofcourse don't owned.
8. In political assassenations, it is not important to find who has performed it, the impotant
thing is how benefits from it.
So, did you get the theory ??
well, here it is :
Syria will withdraw from Lebanon absolutly and the Maronites will reach to the power and
make peace with Isreal which means they will forbid Hezbuallah (items 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
If you read item #4 , you will find that the Maronites want to remember 17 May agreement
with Isreal.
From item #3 you can get that Mr. Hariri was an obstacle in Maronites plan (items 3, 4).
The Coclusion :
Isreal and Maronites (The Cardinal, Aoun, Sameer Jaja, Jamieel family ....) have perform
this assassenation.
Syria can't get anything at all from this assassenation.
Lebanon will be a corner stone in US's project : The Great Middle East.
US will use Lebanon as a base for their plan.
US and Israel will perform a huge strike against Iran's nuclear project, not an invation but
an extreme hit.
Personally I think there will be a small military movement against Syria at May.
Syria is the remaining obstacle in the middle east and with this assassenation, Syria is
under fire.
Jordan and Eygept is out of the game (the same is true for the Arab Gulf).
Lebya, Morroco, Tunisia are out of the game too.

At 2/18/2005 09:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do worry that you sharing information with us will compromise your family. What you do share with us in invaluable. Your portrait of Syria is largest sympathetic.

It was just announced that Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, Major General Asef Shawkat, will assume the post military intelligence chief. A quick google search of his wife, Bushra Assad, suggests a young woman adept at political machinations. (This can't be welcome news.)

At 2/18/2005 10:47:00 AM, Blogger Papa Ray said...

A little about Iran, the instigator and dark force in the ME.

Iran,they can produce a nuke anytime they want (and may already have one or two) and they are currently trying to see the maximum of what they can get away with as far as their trade deals with the EU are concerned. There is bribery going both ways, and each side thinks they are fooling the other.

At the same time, Iran continues its pursuit of long-range ballistic missiles, such as an improved version of its 1,300 km range Shahab-3 MRBM, to add to the hundreds of short-range SCUD missiles it already has.

They're trying to get their arsenal to the point where they can plausibly challenge/blackmail the U.S and Israel or at the very least set themselves up as the undisputed power in the region.

They also are cutting deals with various extreamist (terrorists) groups, makeing promises that they may or may not keep.

Once that's done, they plan on exporting their Islamist revolution to a number of the [other] Gulf states, which is one of the reasons that there's a Saudi Hezbollah to begin with.

Iraq of course, is at the top of the list right along with Syria. But really everyone in the ME is on the list.

The murder was instigated and arranged by Irran. Syrian operatives and grudging cooperation was involved by [some] Syrians.

But they may have over played their hand. Bush can play poker with the best of them. He was raised on it and his commitment to a new democratic ME is firm and he will not be stopped.

This murder has only caused future events to be accelerated, and I am afraid, to be the trigger of the biggest blood bath yet.

The United States Air Force and Navy have to date almost been left out of the "War" and they are chomping at the bit, ready and willing to cause death and destruction.

Papa Ray
West Texas

At 2/18/2005 12:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this really an analysis or a cowboy movie script. You don't need to remind us of the amount of destruction and massacres that your "brave" forces can do; believe me that we know but I wonder why Bush doesn't seem to be as brave with North Korea as he is with the others. Sir, they announced that they have a Nuke! so lets see how this cowboy movie will apply with the Koreans.

At 2/18/2005 04:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Josh,
If I am reading you clearly, I am seeing there is no such thing as old and new guards. There is only the Assad family. If what you are saying is true, then this family needs to exposed and put on trial for their crimes against the humanity of all Syrians. If Hariri's death is caused by Rami Makhlouf, then I hope he will rot in hell. Not because he killed a good man. He should rot in hell because he is jeopardizing all of Syria for making more money regardless of how long he has been milking the Syrian people.
One last thing: I would just like my Lebanese brothers and sisters to stop bashing Syrians and try to imagine what kind of suffering we have been enduring from these filth of people ruling us for generations.
I hope you will get your independence which will trigger our own independence and throw the yoke of these vultures.
Isn't it time for Syrian to stop their naivety and see Bashar as the Mafia patron he really is. They are robbing us our dignity and exchanging it for hatred from the rest of the world. Syrians are no victims; we are just a flock of sheep being lead to the slaughter house by a family of barbaric butchers.

At 2/18/2005 10:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If any of you knew Bashar personally, you would realize he would never approve of the Hariri assassination.

I think the recent appointment of Shawkat could be seen as a counterforce to Maher and Rami's influence.

I hope what follows will be not too bloody. God knows what are the rules of the game between all these power centers. I just hope that Maher would do what his uncle Rifaat did when his brother Hafez challenged him ... step aside.

At 2/19/2005 01:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joshua is only narrating what a diplomat in Syria told him so need to jump into conclusions without evidence.

At 3/03/2005 03:51:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...


Does your asylum provide internet access to resident lunatics nowadays? A chilling idea...

At 3/04/2005 05:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Analysis in reply to JT's Interesting Conspiracy Theory:
1. The "new guard" is close to financial/business interests in Lebanon. Continued control of Lebanon's government is key to protecting these interests.
2. The new guard had to show that they, not the "old guard" hands, were setting policy for Lebanon.
3. Efforts by the new guard and its proxies in Lebanon to ignore Res 1559 were not successful in ending or blunting pressure to withdraw.
4. Hairi was a big part of the problem...he had gone to the UN to advocate passage of Res 1559 and was publically urging its implementation. He probably was the only political figure who could create a national concensus in Lebanon and was in the process of doing just that. The assassination of Hairi communicates a clear message ...that Syria was in control of Lebanon and those who opposed Syria's involvment will be dealt with harshly.
5. The new guard did not know that Hairi had Saudi citizenship or had underestimated its significance. That was a blunder of major proportions because it was the Saudis who were propping up financially the Lebanese economy and Hairi was their closed Lebanonese collegue. The assassination was an inadvertant attack on Saudi's interests and it precipitated a series of events that the new guard cannot control. Syria has now lost control of the politics in Lebanon because of this blunder.
5. The appointment of General Shawlat as Chief of Intelligence (where the real actors in the assasination can be found) indicates the President is taking back Intelligence from the new guard and will require strict accountability from Intelligence. That is the closest to an admission of Syria's involvment in the assassination so far.
6. Although seriously damaged, the new guard is not dead meat, at least not yet.
7. There is no coherent foreign poilcy in Damascus and will not be until either the new guard or old guard is removed from influence.

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At 8/07/2005 11:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following link I have found discusses the phemomena of Rami Makhlouf in great detail. Cynical but lots of substance too:

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