Friday, September 30, 2005

Can Rifaat make a Come Back?

Sami Moubayed has written an excellent article profiling the main Syrians who have turned to Bin Laden and his brand of extremist Islam. The article, The Syrians who cried wolf, argues that the world should not underestimate the Islamist threat in Syria and neither should the Syrian government. Sami believes that Syria should recognize Islamic political parties in order to draw them into the political process and keep the masses from radicalizing as Jordan has done.

Rifaat al-Asad is once again trying to make a come back. This time he has actually got a few American backers!

On Monday, the former director of the congressional task force on terrorism and unconventional warfare, Yossef Bodansky, virtually announced Rifaat's candidacy to head Syria. Sitting across from Rifaat at a Paris restaurant, Mr. Bodansky said on the John Batchelor program on ABC Radio that his dinner companion enjoyed support from America and Saudi Arabia as the heir apparent to the crumbling Baathist regime in Damascus.

Meanwhile, in Washington over the weekend Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told an audience at an off-the-record retreat for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that America was indifferent to the fate of Syria's rulers. "The United States is interested in behavior change, but if regime change would occur, so be it," he said, according to three people in the room for his comment.

Rifaat al-Assad has been angling for a way to take over Syria since 1983, when his brother first exiled him after he amassed a militia in the streets of Damascus with rumors circulating that the leader was deathly ill. Over the years, the Assad family's black sheep has had intermittent meetings with Western and Arab intelligence services and claimed, according to one former CIA official, that he could foment a military coup with his contacts in the military and security services in Syria. The deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson, said yesterday, "Rifaat at various times in the last decade has tried to propose himself as a more reasonable alternative to other members of his family."

One of Rifaat's possible selling points to the Americans is also one of his liabilities. In 1982, he led the military campaign that crushed the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in Hama, a massacre that claimed as many as 40,000 lives. In this respect, he can claim experience that will serve him in putting down the jihadist movement in Syria at war with Iraq's first representative government. Yet at the same time, because he is both an Assad and a Baathist with blood on his hands, support for him would severely undermine America's public case that it is supporting the transition to democracy in the Arab world.
I take this as a last ditch effort by the "regime change" crowd in Washington to produce an alternative to Bashar. If they are grabbing at Rifaat, they are grabbing at straws. Rifaat!? I agree with Robert Rabil on this one, who denounced Rifaat in clear language, unlike his superiors at the Washington Institute. He said flatly,
"Rifaat is not going to work in Syria." He said that Rifaat al-Assad has too many enemies in the country ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to loyalists to his brother. "He has a terrible past and is accused of corruption throughout Syria,"
Even Farid Ghadry said Rifaat was not a democrat.

"France opposes using UN probe to destabilize Syria." Leila Hatoum writes in the Daily Star, September 30, 2005.
BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy expressed Paris' opposition yesterday to destabilizing Syria through the UN probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. After meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Douste-Blazy said that it would be a "mistake" to take punitive measures against Damascus before the UN team completes its investigations.
Meanwhile, Mehlis is wrapping up his investigation by interviewing more Lebanese security people and taking in three engineers who work for Lebanon's cellphone company because they erased recordings of certain phone conversations germane to the investigation.

Syria has been calling on its allies for help. The Indian Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed, who is visiting Syria, announced "that Syria has an important pivotal role in establishing just and permanent peace in the Middle East.
Ahamed expressed his country’s worry about escalation of the U.S. accusations against Syria following the war on Iraq.

“Despite of all pressures, Syria was and still remains strong and steadfast on all its firm principles and it works for achieving peace and stability in the region.” Ahamed said in statement to the Syrian newspaper of al-Baath.

“We hope that the U.S. will realize that there is no peace or stability in the region without Syria ……We believe that Syria has an important role to play in Iraq's future.” he Added.
Turkey rejects American demand to interfere in Syria's affairs
Yesterday Turk's Foreign Minister Abdulla Gol announced that Ankara will not interfere in any country's affairs. "Prime Minister Rajab Tayeb Erdogan warned Washington that playing with Syria will be very dangerous because Syria will be worst than Iraq" Turkish sources said.

Concerning discussions with US National Security Advisor Steven Hadley and other American officials held recently in Ankara on a scenario to change the Syrian regime, Gol said in a press conference that "Turkey can not interfere in the affairs of other countries" adding that Ankara has good bilateral ties with many countries in the region and simultaneously supports democracy and transparency in these countries".

Turkish sources said that Hadley and Secretary of State aid for Public Diplomacy Karin Hughes, who were in Anqara two days ago, conveyed an American demand to Turkey as regards a scenario to change the regime in Syria.

Turkish sources also said that Erdogan and Gol warned Hadley not to interfere in changing of the Syrian regime affirming that "ِAnqara knows very well the characteristics of the Syrian regime .In addition Anqara always advice Syrians to realize democracy."

Regarding the mission of the International Investigation Committee on the assassination of the late president Rafik Hariri, Gol said "the concerned independent committee did not reach a conclusion yet, so no comment from Turkey".
Syria Asks Russia for More Weapons

Chief of the Syrian General Staff General de corps Ali Habib was received yesterday by Russian Chief of the General Staff Yury Baluevsky in Moscow. Although the meeting went on behind closed doors, Kommersant was able to discover certain details from it. In particular, that Habib delivered two lists, one of military equipment that needs repairs and modernization, and the other of new-model weapons that Damascus is inquiring about.

This is the first visit by Gen. Habib since two significant events in relations between Moscow and Damascus. At the beginning of this year, Israel expressed its concern over Russian deliveries of Iskander-E missile complexes to Syria. Russian President blocked the deal. Moscow at the same time announced the forgiveness of more than 70 percent of Syria's debt to Russia for previous weapons shipments (more than $10 billion). That enabled Syria to make orders for more Russian weapons, which, under the new rules, were to be paid for in hard currency immediately.
The scoop on the "American academics" who visited Bashar al-Asad was sent to me by Andrea at Columbia University.

Al-Assad discuss Syria- U.S. ties with anti-war academics
Syria-USA, Politics, 9/21/2005

"The aim of our delegation visit is to reach a suitable situation to
hold dialogue between the Syrian and U.S. sides... as well as convey
a message to the U.S. people saying that we should be fair with
Syria, and don't take quick decisions on different issues between
both countries." Jennings, president of "Conscience International,"
a humanitarian aid organization told SANA.

The organization says that Jennings, Conscience International's Founder and President, led a delegation of "US Academics Against the War" to Baghdad in January, 2003, a few weeks prior to the US-UK invasion. Thirty-seven professors from twenty-eight US universities joined with academics from several Iraqi Universities to warn against the humanitarian costs and political consequences of launching a preemptive war against Iraq.
Anwar al-Bunni and other Syrian activists have announced the need for a new social contract and constitution in Syria. They are proposing one, which is described by as-Seyassah. Here is another article about it, send by Tony Badran. Thanks Tony, and thanks Nick sending the best article on it by Sham Press (also in Arabic.)

Here is an interesting article Nibras Kazimi just sent on:
Who Killed Hariri?

Nibras Kazimi on a Lebanese murder mystery
The New York Sun; Date:2005 Sep 28; Section:Editorial & Opinion; Page 8

In February, a couple of weeks after Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in Beirut, I pegged the blame for the murder on the Syrian leadership, who I claimed had acted through their acolytes, Hezbollah. My reasoning at the time was that the Syrians had the motive and the means, and that the only terrorist team that could pull off such a delicate operation was the one headed by the Lebanese terrorist Imad Mughniyeh.

A couple of months later, while visiting Lebanon, I surveyed the site of the blast and changed my mind: the bombing that killed Hariri along the waterfront was too big and too flashy and thus did not bear Mughniyeh’s signature. Would the Syrians do such a thing on their own? Unlikely; too high a risk of being caught. No, this job was done by a Lebanese network, but which one if not Mughniyah’s “A-Team”? The likely suspects were the Syrian loyalists in charge of the Lebanese security apparatus.

Yes, blaming the heads of the Lebanese security apparatus seemed the rational thing to do, and a little too easy. At the top of the list was the much-feared director of General Security, General Jamil Al-Sayyid. I went to visit him in May at his home, but was much disappointed: instead of finding a nefarious and evil spymaster, I found a vain and very proper military officer. Al-Sayyid seemed genuinely stung by the accusation that drove him to volunteer his resignation after decades of service to the Lebanese state. He had an “I’ll show them” attitude that involved setting-up his own think-tank and publishing a liberal newspaper: he would launch a political career and avenge his sullied name and track record. He did not strike me as a man that would be smartly sinister enough, or gullibly dumb enough, to be involved in the Hariri murder.

Since resigning, Al-Sayyid had managed to regain some respectability through a long interview that was serialized over several days in a leading Arabic newspaper. He was even seen about town dining with the American ambassador at an Italian restaurant in downtown Beirut.

But Al-Sayyid, along with three other top officers, was arrested last month by the Lebanese authorities on the recommendation of the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who is running the United Nations-mandated investigation into the assassination. Mehlis is supposed to hand in his final report by Oct. 25. A lot is riding on Mr. Mehlis, including the culpability of the Syrian regime in ex-Prime Minister Hariri’s murder. His report could amount to a casus belli against the Assad dynasty by the international community. The only problem is that I think that Mr. Mehlis has very little by way of a smoking gun, but rather can only establish motive and some circumstantial evidence.

There was talk of a defector, who in the first account leaked by Saudi intelligence was supposed to be Major Zuheir S., a Syrian intelligence officer with direct oversight of activities in Lebanon.The Saudis had helped him defect and then took him to Paris (where he was debriefed by the French and then Mr. Mehlis) and to Cairo (where the Egyptian spooks figured out that he was lying) and then to Spain (where he met Rifa’at Assad, an exiled claimant to the throne of his nephew, Bashar, and a chum of the Saudis).

The Syrians countered by leaking a brief biography of Zuheir Siddique, who turns out to be in their account a colorful con man with seven wives and a checkered career in the annals of fraud all over Syria and Lebanon. He had somehow snookered the Saudis, the French and Mr. Mehlis into believing that he was credible and could prove Syrian blameworthiness. Sources keep telling me that this guy was Mr. Mehlis’s trump card and that the Syrians had found it easy to discredit his testimony. Other information that Mr. Mehlis had acted on and that found its way into the Lebanese press is also turning out to be wrong.

One theory talks about a cover-up at the scene of the crime, but making that work would require the Lebanese bureaucracy to be more efficient than it is. The supposed coverup could be explained away as fumbling rather than malice. Moreover, the four top suspects — who headed four rival security and military branches — loathe each other, and it is very hard to envision them working together to kill Hariri.

Even the handling of the investigation by Mehlis seems sloppy and is “operating on ad hoc law” that is in contravention of what the U.N. set down in its related resolution and would not hold up in court, according to Al-Sayyid’s lawyer, Akram Azzouri, speaking in a telephone interview on Monday.

Accepting Mr. Mehlis’s thesis would make one hesitant to entertain yet another suspect entity: a Sunni fundamentalist group with the “previously unknown” tag. Sunni fanatics in carefree Beirut? The mental image just does not seem to fit, but I am slowly getting used to it. Omar Bakri, the militant fundamentalist who was recently kicked out of Britain after spending 20 years there and heralding the day when the Islamic flag shall flutter triumphantly over 10 Downing Street, is now beseeching his followers to join him in Beirut. An appendage of Zarqawi’s organization in Iraq is branching out under the name of Jund al-Sham into both Syria and the northern Lebanese town of Trablous. Shia-Sunni tensions across Lebanon are also surfacing and creating a political atmosphere that harks back to the civil war days.

The Syrian regime is nasty and horrible: they are a relic of a defunct Ba’athist totalitarian ideology that rules through vicious sectarian domination. There are plenty of reasons for undermining and overthrowing them, but on the current evidence, Hariri’s murder should not be one of these reasons. Given what I know after following this story for a while, I am less certain today that they or their acolytes — whether Hizbullah or Al-Sayyid — are indeed guilty of this particular foul deed.

The Mehlis investigation could be barking up the wrong tree, and this would have immense repercussions. There seems to be a frenzy of wishful thinking in Washington and Beirut that Herr Sherlock Holmes would nobly and irrefutably expose just how evil the Syrians really are, but everyone may be in for a major disappointment. The Egyptians have already figured out that the whole affair is going in the wrong direction and seem to be jumping ship.The Syrians are having a field day by poking holes in the supposed “evidence” against them and their Lebanese lackeys, and they have dispatched their smug No. 2 intelligence man to Paris with a big dossier to bolster the argument of their “innocence.”

But the question remains: who killed Hariri? Whoever did it has wedded terrorism to long-term strategic planning. In the old days, regimes like Assad’s or Saddam’s or the Iranian mullahs, had mastered this dark art. But what if al-Qaeda is planning to use Lebanon as a launch pad to bring down the regime in Syria? There is more to this bigger picture, and scapegoating the Syrians may be easy but dangerous if it serves other interested parties skulking in the shadows.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer based in Washington D.C., and currently traveling around the Middle East. He can be reached at


At 9/30/2005 06:02:00 AM, Blogger roby137 said...

Dear Sir

The analysis made by Mr. Kazimi on the killing of Harriri is really quite feeble. They amount to a set of assumptions that sadly bare all of the hallmarks of a prostrated “Arab-street” conspiracy theory. Sorry, very tabloid.

At 9/30/2005 06:26:00 AM, Blogger Ghassan said...

Mr. Kazimi's analysis does not worth a response! It looks like he does not know the real actors in Lebanon! I will not waste my time to respond to each of his assumptions and conclusions!

At 9/30/2005 08:10:00 AM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

What a crap. The entire comment in this post is that and nothing else. Just see the list names and it is enough to make you puke this morning: Riffat, Bodansky, I repeat BODANSKY, Mobayyed, Kazimi, Hatoom, Jennings, E.Ahmed, Gol, SANA...Is that the list of world's most famous or most corrupt and ignorant? one can spend his time better at Barns & Bailey Circus than west time commenting on this crap.

At 9/30/2005 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Yabroud said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9/30/2005 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Yabroud said...

Any body will be better than this mob, even Rifaat Assad.

At 9/30/2005 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Emmanuel said...

On France : I agree France does not want regime change in Syria but they (Chirac that is) are really mad at how Assad & Co still handle Lebanon. For the first time with Chidiac has the Quai d'Orsay labelled the attack as a "terrorist attack", as I explain on my blog. This escalation of words (and French diplomats use words very self-consciously) is a strong indication that Paris is really fed up. No regime change probably, but no niceties either.

At 9/30/2005 05:31:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9/30/2005 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

If they had to vote between Rifaat and Assad, the Syrians woud vote for Bashar (or, more plausibly, they would boycott the vote). Rifaat's history in Syria (and in Lebanon) is filled with uber-violent actions.

The return of Rifaat poses several questions:
1°Rifaat has been out of Syria for more than 20 years. Is it really possible that he maintained a network inside the regime for more than 20 years? How can he engineer a putsh if he doesn't have any support from the inside?
2°If the US support Rifaat, it would violate the democratization policy in the Middle East. Will the neo-cons support this move? The US does not need further accusations of double standards.
3°Watch the French here. Chirac has something personal against Bashar. France is not a great power anymore, but it can be efficient when it works under a joint US-EU consensus. The US might outsource them the job and maintain plausible deniabilty. Emmanuel, I know that you have a good expertise on PAF, but does an official statement mean anything? In the Middle-East, real politic is not about official statements.

I can see why some may think that Rifaat will implement reforms. Josh, you often said that Bashar couldn't implement a reform agenda while facing the West's hostility. Rifaat on the other hand, might enjoy some western support. But remember that initially, the west wasn't hostile to Bashar. Yet Bashar failed to reform Syria, despite Western support (assuming that Bashar really wanted to push for reforms). If Bashar failed, why would Rifaat succeed?

This is less relevant, but a change in Syria will have implications in Lebanon. Kamal Jumblat was supposedly killed by Rifaat not by Hafez. Will this affect Syrian-Lebanese relations? Will the Hariris support a pro-western Syria? What will happen to the Syrian-Iranian alliance? Will the Hezbollah support a pro-western Syria?

At 9/30/2005 05:59:00 PM, Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

The bombing ressembles the ETA assassination which brought down Franco's successor regime in Spain: The 20 December 1973 bomb, buried under the street, killed President Carrero Blanco and set his his car hurtling over the rooftops.

This bombing was reknown for its precison and meticulous preparation.

This bombing took place in a very heavily surveiled police state, btw.

At 9/30/2005 07:14:00 PM, Blogger Yabroud said...

What is this Nour talking about?

Strange people!

At 10/01/2005 12:25:00 AM, Blogger Gina said...

Truly said, its waste of time to read what an american intellectual here offers, a kind of Patrick Seale style, whose shoes seems to be free. "The struggle for syria" part 2 in the making?

"""There is a cliché that distinguishes between cultures of shame and cultures of guilt, and by that crude distinction, it has always been said that the Arab world is a "shame culture." But in truth there is precious little shame in Arab life about the role of the Arabs in the great struggle for and within Iraq. What is one to make of the Damascus-based Union of Arab Writers that has refused to grant membership in its ranks to Iraqi authors? The pretext that Iraqi writers can't be "accredited" because their country is under American occupation is as good an illustration as it gets of the sordid condition of Arab culture. For more than three decades, Iraq's life was sheer and limitless terror, and the Union of Arab Writers never uttered a word. Through these terrible decades, Iraqis suffered alone, and still their poetry and literature adorn Arabic letters. They need no acknowledgment of their pain, or of their genius, from a literary union based in a city in the grip of a deadening autocracy. """

The rest here:,,SB112787674304454271-IBjgYNilaR4n52qbH2IaK2Dm4,00.html


At 10/01/2005 04:17:00 AM, Blogger adonis syria said...

This article speak about the american options toward Syria.

It seem that the syrian regime has a faihful ally in Israel and this is logical because what's bad for the syrian people is good for Israel.

At 10/01/2005 04:41:00 AM, Blogger Hammam Y. Bargouth said...

"Abdullah Azzam, a terror leader who was killed by the US Army in Baghdad last week" this is a guote from - Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.
Asia Times (September 29, 2005).
it looks like he needs a lot, and Joshua I admit that I was Skeptical about you, and it looks like I am on the right track, Abdullah Azzam, was killed on 1989!!! so much for your "excellent article profiling the main Syrians who have turned to Bin Laden and his brand of extremist Islam" but after all, I don't expect from you accuracy never mind reall interest of facts in this area, you care for your lords and what they need from you, and this is bad for you ahh. try to be more objective for your sake.

At 10/01/2005 05:32:00 AM, Blogger adonis syria said...

Lebanon closes illegal routes from Syria

At 10/01/2005 05:34:00 AM, Blogger adonis syria said...

Attempt to Kill Judge Investigating Madina Bank Scandal is Thwarted
An attempt to assassinate the judge overseeing the probe into the financial scandals of Beirut's Al Madina Bank was foiled at a Kesrouan township in Lebanon's Christian heartland on Saturday, the Beirut media reported.
Neighbors spotted two men trying to booby-trap Judge Nazem Khoury's Mercedes-Benz in the Kesrouan township of Sahel Alma overnight and called in police, media reports said.

Sensing that the attempt has been uncovered, the two men got rid of the explosives they were trying to plant in the car and fled the scene in a speeding car.

Police investigators seized the explosives that were wrapped into booby-trap with a maze of bulbs, wires and batteries filmed by the LBCI TV network.

Al Madina Bank scandal involved some $1.2 billion in swindled deposits attributed by judicial investigators to the pretty woman who managed the bank in the past three years, Rana Koleilat. Senior Syrian intelligence officers, including Rustom Ghazaleh, also were reportedly involved.

Rana was released on $200,000 bail from 14 moths in jail in March and vanished right away. Media reports said she was whisked out of Lebanon aboard the yacht of a senior official, presumably to Cyprus or Egypt. A newspaper report that she was murdered on the yacht could not be confirmed.

It could not be immediately determined whether or not Judge Khoury's assassination attempt was part of the spate of terrorist bombings, assassinations and attempted assassinations that rocked Lebanon since the extension of Syrian-backed President Lahoud's term in power a year ago.


At 10/02/2005 07:09:00 PM, Blogger Ms Levantine said...

I totally agree with Mr. kazimi's insightful article and his conclusion: nobody killed Rafiq Hariri. Therefore, the Syrian regime cannot be held accountable. The simple truth is that Mr Hariri's convoy was hit by a rogue meteorite, as can be seen by the crater on the scene. Mr. Shawkat clearly explained the situation to the French during his recent trip to Paris, to which Mr. Chirac answered: but on whose payroll am I going to be now? Reliable sources tell me that Mr. Shawkat then made a secret trip to Pasadena where he gave an explanatory lecture to the planetary science dept. at Catech. He received a standing ovation from the assembled faculty when he offered them a piece of the killer meteorite. Kudos to prof. Landis who should call his blog "Syria Comments supporting the current regime", in the name of stability and realpolitik of course. Given the sorry state of the football team this year, it is reassuring to see that at least the M-E dept. at the U. of Oklahoma is doing a good job. I smell tenure. Or is it manure?


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