Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"Beirut Bombshell," by Prothero

The assassination of a former Prime Minister may have been linked to the collapse of Lebanon's Bank al-Madina.

15 May 2006
U.S. Edition

LAST YEAR, WHEN SYRIAN intelligence operatives were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, their motive seemed clear: to neutralize a political opponent of Syria's three-decade occupation of Lebanon. But United Nations investigators and other sources have told FORTUNE there may have been an additional reason for the hit. The February 2005 car bombing in Beirut, the sources say, may have been partly intended to cover up a corruption and bank fraud scandal that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars to top Syrian and Lebanese officials.

Bank documents, court filings, and interviews with investigators and other sources show that some of the officials were deeply involved from the late 1990s until early 2003 in a kickback scheme that supplied them with cash, real estate, cars, and jewelry in exchange for protecting and facilitating a multibillion-dollar money- laundering operation at Lebanon's Bank al-Madina that allowed terrorist organizations, peddlers of West African "blood diamonds," Saddam Hussein, and Russian gangsters to hide income and convert hot money into legitimate bank accounts around the world. Despite efforts to cover up the details surrounding the bank's collapse in early 2003, these sources say, the Syrian and Lebanese officials allegedly involved in the fraud feared that Hariri could return to power and reveal their role in one of the biggest illegal banking operations in the Middle East since the Bank of Credit & Commerce International scandal in the early 1990s.

"Was the scandal part of the reason Hariri was killed?" asks Marwan Hamade, Lebanon's Minister of Telecommunications and a Hariri confidant who was himself the target of a car-bomb assassination attempt. "Absolutely. It was certainly one of the cumulative reasons. If he had been reelected, Hariri would have reopened the file, which we know goes directly to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad through the [Lebanese] presidential palace in Baabda." ....

Addendum: A Syria Comment reader suggested that Prothro's story had been largely taken from an earlier article by Benny Avni in the New York Sun. Actually Prothro has been working on the al-Madina story for a year now. In the October 27, 2005 issue of Time, Prothero wrote this story: The Money Scandal Behind the Hariri Assassination.

Prothro also suggested to me in a recent conversation that he certainly didn't want to suggest in his story that the al-Madina affair was the only, or even, main reason for Hariri's murder.


At 5/02/2006 04:49:00 PM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Cant find a link to the article anywhere even on Fortune’s website.

I doubt that Hariri wanted to uncover the corruption and abuse of this bank because of his concern for the banking industry in Lebanon. I am sure he was aware of this a long time before there was a feud between him and Damascus. If he was seriously considering uncovering it, it’s because he wanted to flex some muscles.

At 5/02/2006 07:49:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

Actually, central parts of this "bombshell" report have already been published by the NY Sun in March:

Top Syrian Officials Suspected In Hariri Murder Linked to Fraud
Benny Avni, March 23, 2006

On occasion of the second Mehlis Report, As'ad AbuKhalil made this interesting comment regarding Hariri and the al-Madina bank scandal:
"Par. 69: spare me the promises of Rafiq Hariri to investigate Al-Madinah Bank. The scandal took place under his nose, while he was Prime Minister, and the scandal involved(s) people in his own circle."
December 12, 2005

True? Not true? I hope he elaborates.

There is something odd about the following statement by Hamade:
"The entire file on Madina is now at the Ministry of Justice, except for the key parts that implicate Maher Assad, which are still being held in the Central Bank, because people are afraid of being killed over it".

Hamade did talk to Mehlis, why didn't he tell him about those files? Mehlis certainly had the power and the will to get them.

Without the information supposedly contained in the files, the transfer of an apartment to a close friend of the office manager of Maher al-Asad doesn't exactly look like a "smoking gun".


thank you for your thoughtful reply. You write:

"1- Hariri was working against Bashar interests"

True, but killing him wasn't in Syria's interest either. Supposedly, the motive for the crime was to secure the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Yet, a mere two weeks after the bombing Bashar announced the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops. He didn't even wait for the mobilization of Syria's allies (March 8). It would be schizophrenic to consider both decisions as part of the same coherent policy.

"2- Bashar has already warned him"

"I will break Lebanon over your head". Let's assume for a moment that this is what Asad said, it still isn't a personal threat to his life (unless it comes from Atlas... ;-) ), but rather a metaphorical threat to create sectarian strife in the country ("break"). Such a strategy would have been much more rational from Syria's point of view, at least compared to the brutal murder of Hariri.

"3- Syrian regime has a history of using violence to get what it wants"

Yes, but the hope was - and perhaps still is - that Bashar will follow a different path.

"4- Bashar already proved he can miscalculate when he pushed for extension of Lahoud"

Perhaps, but that would be a very small miscalculation in comparison to the sheer idiocy of ordering the killing of Hariri while the world's sole superpower is out to get you (General Clark repeated it just yesterday on the Al Franken Show: when he came to the Pentagon in November 2001, the generals there told him that the decision to invade Iraq had already been made and that there was even a plan - after they finished with Iraq - to go after Lebanon, Syria and Iran. And I am sure that the Syrians were aware of that.).

"5- Most importantly, the investigation done by the Lebanese security services just after the murder smacked of cover-up."

Even if there was a cover-up, it doesn't necessarily follow that Bashar was involved in the plot or knew about it in advance. As Edward Walker suggested in the article that I quoted, the order may have come from Maher or Shawkat. Finally, the Fortune article above shows that Ghazali may himself have had strong personal motives to do it.

At 5/02/2006 08:10:00 PM, Blogger syrianb said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/02/2006 08:11:00 PM, Blogger syrianb said...

الأسد والقذافي من أبشع

أعداء الصحافة في العالم

باريس - أ.ف.ب: نشرت منظمة »مراسلون بلا حدود« الفرنسية التي تدافع عن الصحافة لائحتها السنوية لابشع اعداء الصحافة في العالم ضمت 37 اسما بينهم اثنان من القادة العرب هما الزعيم الليبي معمر القذافي والرئيس السوري بشار الاسد.
ودخل هذه اللائحة السوداء خمسة اسماء جديدة هي: رئيس الوزراء الاثيوبي ميليس زيناوي والرئيس الايراني محمود احمدي نجاد والمجموعات المسلحة للتاميل في سريلانكا وزعيم الميليشيات الكولومبية دييغو فرناندو مورييو بيخارانو وزعيم القوات المسلحة الثورية في كولومبيا راوول راييس.
اما الاسماء الاخرى ال¯ 32 والتي كانت العام الماضي على هذه اللائحة السوداء فمن ابرزها الرئيس الكوبي فيديل كاسترو والرئيس الروسي فلاديمير بوتين والرئيس الصيني هو جينتاو والرئيس الكوري الشمالي كيم جونغ ايل وجاء في التقرير »اكانوا رؤساء ام وزراء ملوكا ام مرشدين روحيين زعماء حرب او زعماء منظمات اجرامية ان اعداء الصحافة هؤلاء قادرون على سجن او خطف أو تعذيب الصحافيين وحتى الامر بقتلهم

At 5/03/2006 02:38:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Is there anything that was not already said a million times about this endless investigation?

When and if it will finally be over, everyone can claim that they already solved it at some point.

At 5/03/2006 02:42:00 AM, Blogger zobahhan said...

haha this is ridiculous. Basically turning in circles trying to exhaust every possible "motive." Its ridiculous.

If at first you fail, keep trying different reasons till something makes sense and fails.

At 5/03/2006 06:49:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

"In the banking center of Beirut, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri recently stated there was no need to freeze funds belonging to terrorist organizations, as the banks in Lebanon were too small to engage in illegal money transfers.

"We have no money laundering in this country," said Hariri, a statement the Lebanese find laughable in a country which has long prided itself on having bank secrecy laws rivaled only by the Swiss, and government ministers who grow rich in office.

Hariri himself holds Saudi citizenship and has made millions through Saudi construction interests; it is highly unlikely he would closely scrutinize Saudi business dealings in Lebanon. In addition to an Al Qaeda presence in its refugee camps, Lebanon has a thriving, and well financed, Wahhabi community."

I am no expert in Syria - Lebanon relations, but I have been wondering could the Syrian leadership have been so stupid, that they could not figure out the consciousness of Hariri’s murder in such showy way. Syria was already under heavy international pressure so the murder certainly did not make their situation better compared to the situation that Hariri would have lived. Certainly Syrians were clever enough to calculate that Hariri’s murder would end their presence in Lebanon.

Hariri had his fingers deep in the Middle East’s money transfers through his banks and in weapon trades.

Robert Fisk tells in his article: ”Of Hariri's assassination, Syrian officials like to recall his relationship with the former Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Alawi - a self-confessed former agent for the CIA and MI6 - and an alleged $20bn arms deal between the Russians and Saudi Arabia in which they claim Hariri was involved.”

Certainly Hariri knew much also about such things USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel do not want to become public.

It could be worth thinking, what would have been the fastest (and cheapest) way for some players to drive Syria out of Lebanon. Hariri’s murder…

At 5/03/2006 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

Sorry guys for beating a dead horse. (probably I do work for the Mukhabarat :)

Anonymous? said:
"Edward Walker suggested in the article that I quoted, the order may have come from Maher or Shawkat. Finally, the Fortune article above shows that Ghazali may himself have had strong personal motives to do it."

Assuming this to be true (I think it highly unlikely for multiple reasons), it is clear that Bashar and his gang figured out by now who this lone spoiler is. The fact that he is still alive indicates he is more powerfull than Bashar.

In summary it is irrelevant whether Bashar ordered the coup, as long a s we agree it is the product of the regime he is representing.

What is interesting about the new allegations linking the murder (and Lahoud extension) to money laudering. It shows that the regime was not irrational in its actions simply too greedy for its own good. I suspect that Hafez role has been to temper the short term appetites of his gang and guide them with a long term vision, it seems that Bashar lacks this vision or the ability to enforce it on his fellow gangsters.


the regime will not survive long without a strong and visionary leader.

At 5/03/2006 12:29:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

"Jyrgen Kylbel" in town:

German criminologist: Hariri's murder intended to dismantle security apparatuses in Lebanon as a prelude to dismantle Hezbollah's weapons

Again, I don't think that Külbel found any concrete evidence for the involvement of Mossad or PNAC related groups.

Robert Fisk has spoken to Seymour Hersh who, as it turns out, met with Bashar al-Asad shortly before the assassination of Hariri:

"I was seeing (President) Bashar (Assad of Syria) at the time of the assassination of (former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq) Hariri. There was obviously bad blood between Bashar and Hariri. Bashar was saying that Hariri wanted to take over the cell-phone business in Damascus. To this day I don’t know what happened. I saw Bashar from 11am until 1pm (on February 14, 2005). He talked about what a thief Hariri was."
Beating about the bush?

In my opinion this shows two things:

1. that there were strong tensions between Syria and Hariri

2. that Bashar had no idea that Hariri would be killed a short time later. Why would he go on record and speak to a foreign journalist about the tensions with Hariri if he knew that a plot was already under way to kill him?

At 5/03/2006 01:51:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Here is the more likely scenario:

1) the investigation does not come up with a smoking gun, but strong arguements that some Syrian figures must have been involved. Nothing linking Bahsar directly, except a statement that such a thing can not have been carried out without Bashar's involvement...etc.

2) Syria refuses to accept such inconclusive findings.

3) France and the USA manage a security council resolution demanding that Syria comply with whatever they want it to comply with at the time.

4) then?

It looks like Syria lately is not in the mood to "bend" to pressure ... who will bend? who will take it ot the next bloody phase?

At 5/03/2006 01:58:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

I stand corrected, though I never wanted to suggest that Mitch Prothero "stole" from Benny Avni.

Ehsani, I forgot to answer your question, sorry.

The simple answer is: I don't know. I have no idea if Ghazali could have acted on his own without some "official" approval (not necessarily Bashar's), but it seems clear that Hariri was a threat to his personal thiefdom in Lebanon.

BTW, the State Department seems to have recognized that the cell (allegedly) headed by Khaled Taha was linked to al-Qa'ida:

New U.S. Travel Warning Says Lebanon Riskier to Americans After Qaida Arrests

In updating a travel warning for Lebanon, the State Department has said that the arrest of suspected members of an al-Qaida cell in Beirut this year makes the country even more of a potential risk to Americans.

Tuesday's travel warning noted that Americans have come under attack frequently in Lebanon. "The presence of al-Qaida in Lebanon raises the potential threat to U.S. citizens and interests," the warning said.(AP)

At 5/03/2006 06:15:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...


As I went through my "archives", I noticed that the first announcement of a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon was made exactly one week after the assassination (and not not two weeks as I had stated earlier):

Syria says it will withdraw troops from the Lebanon
The Times, February 21, 2005

I also discovered that I predicted an "accelerated Syrian withdrawal" as early as February 18... ;-)

But the reason I went through the archives was the following quote which might be quite interesting in the context of our discussion:

"According to senior Middle East sources, Assad was present at a meeting when Shawkat and the president’s brother, Maher, argued that Hariri should be assassinated. Assad is said to have rejected the plan, but Shawkat and Maher — who is also chief of the presidential guard — allegedly went ahead anyway."
The Times, October 23, 2005

This might be one of the reasons why Bashar did not follow the scenario suggested by Ehsani.

Another reason may have been that the appointment of the Mehlis-Lehmann team must have looked - from Syria's point of view - like a declaration of war.
Mehlis and Lehmann both had a long history of run-ins with the Syrian government: Lehmann was, at one time, in charge of a spy network in Lebanon, working closely with the BND and other intelligence agencies; on a later occasion, already acting in collaboration with Mehlis, he had lured a Syrian diplomat to a hotel room in Budapest and then, probably using some form of blackmail, forced him to travel to Germany and testify in a trial (where Mehlis was the prosecutor).
Such actions certainly did not go unnoticed in Damascus.
I don't want to suggest that either Mehlis or Lehmann were unprofessional (Lehmann was perhaps a bit unorthodox in his methods but also very successful and very professional). But from a Syrian point of view it is perhaps understandable that they had little trust in the German investigators.

At 5/03/2006 08:45:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

I think we are better off discusing economics than keep argueing about the same thing ,did syria kill him or it did not that is a question we might never know between people trying to implicate Syria or trying to vendicate it for a price,no matter what the results of the investigation are,people are going to doubt them especialy in the midleast where conspericy has legs and arms.

At 5/04/2006 06:58:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

That Eshani2’s list is rather amusing, especially point number 6.

Have you Eshani2 ever thought how much Saddam could earn in US courts if this kind of suing would be possible? In Gulf War I father Bush’s regime spread a rumour of Iraqis throwing premature born babies out of hospital windows. Later it was revealed that the US PR company Hill & Knowlton had invented the story and the “witness" Nayirah was a member of the royal family and the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to USA. It was said that this lie helped Bush I to win the needed support for the war. Not to mentioning the lies and propaganda spread before this occupation by Bush II and Blair. No WMD’s, planning of war begun “early”. Bush was even ready to paint a U2 plane with UN colours and provoke Saddam’s forces to shoot it down. Saddam would be a rich man and the Bushes and Blair poor and in jail. The sad thing is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had to pay with their lives for these lies the western “democrats” used for their aims.

It is rather naïve to think that so called democratic countries do not spread complete purpose-oriented lies. USA has done it before, does it now and will do it in future. Saying that the end result (= free Iraq) makes the lies justified is not only stupid it is also totally immoral.

At 5/04/2006 09:56:00 AM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

I find your list 5 first points amusing, because countries and presidents do not do such publicity stunts. Not if they are guilty or not guilty. Should President Bush be ready to answer the questions in such 6 point manner about the Venezuela coup attempt in 2002 or build-up of Iraq war? I doubt that.

Actually I do not want to concentrate to the “mistakes” of USA. I do want to point out the moral of the accuser and moralist. Lying to start wars which then lead to hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and thousands of dead American is not a “mistake”. It is a crime against humanity. Powell said in UN: “We know where the WMD’s are”. Knowing means knowing if the claim is followed by a war and the speaker knows that. Suggesting repainting a plane with false “flags” is also no boyish joke, when it used to get a reason to start a war.

Zacarias Moussaoui case revealed that the US justice system (=jury) has stronger moral than the government which tried with all possible means to get a death sentence. The jury understood that the man was insane and no member of 911 “team”. Certainly Zacarias Moussaoui is extreme and mentally sick and his place is in prison or mental hospital.

What comes to your comment about the differences between the juridical system between USA and Syria or Iraq: Nobody does suspect that in Iraq or Syria is a fair trial system*). But sadly it seems that in USA a fair trial is not anymore always the case (if you are a Muslim) and hundreds are not even bothered to be brought to court. Listen from Democracy Now what happened to professor Sami Al-Arian and Sameeh Hammoudeh. Not a pretty story from the “Land of high moral and justice”.

Every nation has a fair share of problems, crimes and lunatics, in Syria and certainly also in USA. We can pick hundreds of such stories from the media in both countries. A little time ago a director of Homeland Security was arrested because of pedophilia. No system is perfect, not even the US system which is responsible of security. Should we say to all US officials: SHAME ON YOU.

*) Naturally there should be but not with such means and human price as they were brought to Iraq.

At 5/04/2006 10:08:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...


Please, with sugar on top, stop barking. This horrible crime you mentioned was nothing more than tasteless propaganda on your behalf. wanna talk crime? how many people are killed/attacked/robbed in the US in front of everybody’s eyes without one civilian twitching a muscle? so give me a break.

There is no question in anyone’s mind that Syria's civil laws are abused on a massive scale but don’t compare it to Saddam Hussein’s. And if you are gonna criticize fairly then criticize both sides instead of idolizing one and defending it blindly. You are just as bad as your typical Ba'athist who regurgitates what the local newspapers/officials say.

The US propaganda machine was in full force three years ago, even bad guys/terrorists in US TV series became Syrian right around the time Washington was in full confrontation with Syria over Iraq (note that’s 2 years before the Hariri murder). So again this is not about democracy, its about power control PERIOD.

At 5/04/2006 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Ehsani2 you are just as extreme as the others, but in the opposite direction.

Why can't you just accept a good arguement instead of always trying to counter attack?

And you are making the same mistake that some others are doing by simplifying things to "America GOOD, Syria BAD"

Of course Syria would be lucky to one day adopt parts of the mature and just American system, there is no need to keep restating the obvious comparison with Syria's current pathetic system of justice. But Please leave the moral arguements out of America's foreign policy ... The Americans have done some great things in the past, and they have done some real damage as well. So you just can not automatically assume every element in their foreign policy is attached to some super-moral goal.

At 5/04/2006 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Nafdik said...

" So you just can not automatically assume every element in their foreign policy is attached to some super-moral goal."

US foreign policy is directed to serve the interets and desires of the American poeple. This is the role of the president of a democratic society. He is morally bound to serve his country and not some abstract sense of universal morality.

Syrian foreign policy is directed to serve the interests of a few dozen families with disasterous consequences to the rest of us. Our president is the representative of this clique, the rest of us are their slaves. If some of us decide to question this arrangment, history shows that this gang is ready to murder 10s of 1000s of us.

Some of us seem to be content with this slavery and we seem to enjoy the "stability" and "security" that our masters "provide". Some of us fear the day of our liberation because we fear each other. We even look with pity on other slaves and proclaim proudly that our masters are "intelligent" and "merciful" unlike the idiotic (Libya) or bloodthirsty (Iraq) masters they have.

At 5/04/2006 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...


"US foreign policy is directed to serve the interets and desires of the American poeple. This is the role of the president of a democratic society. He is morally bound to serve his country and not some abstract sense of universal morality"

We know .. we know we know WE KNOW!

But the interests of the American people are not always the same as the interests of the Iraqi or Syrian or Lebanese people. So what do you, as a Syrian or Iraqi, want your governmetn to do?

I agree that sometimes the wise thing is to accept that is it better to accomodate the American interests even at the expense of your national interests ... some times there is nothing you can do.

But this tendency of some of you to turn everythign into a Black and white Good and Evil is as bad as a Abdallah al-Ahmar speech to the party's senior citizens.

And by the way, American foreign policy is supposed to be always in the interests of American citizens, but leaders are human, even in the United States, they sometimes make big mistakes, and they sometimes can not resist giving priority to their own personal goals ... unless if you think they are pre-programmed robots?

At 5/04/2006 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I fully agree with your points Alex. American (or European) policy is not designed to serve our interests, nor is it supposed to be.

Unfortunatly neither is the policy of our own government. The best thing we can do is to start by getting our own government to serve our interests and then we can hopefully negotiate with other and build win-win agreements that work in our favor. But hoping to get our interests served through some miraculous alignment of the interests of our regime and the interests of other nations with our interests is like hoping to find a lottery ticket on the floor and for that ticket to win: possible but highly unlikely.

Step 1- get power back in our hands
Step 2- use it to serve our interests

At 5/04/2006 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

Awaiting deletion by the one who has lived one year in a country governed by a dictator, and came back to the US adopting that system.

Or is it something more sinister than just 'adopting' the manners of a dictator?

At 5/04/2006 03:53:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

time is on our side, moslem american number is increasing,soon,10-15 year, will elect in USA congresssmen and senators who are pro moslems,it is estimated that in 2025,moslem american will reach 20 millions, this country is based on democratic system, you go to the election booth and vote,for what is your self interest, unless there are people like you, we will have representatives more than the isreali.
honor crime is very ugly and the way it was done to this girl was disgusting, but remember america prisons are full of people who killed their wives because she betrayed her husband, or women in jail because he cheated on her, the punishment is probably correct, but the father and the brother must be punished in jail,it is the society who must punish her, if you live in america,and you saw your wife with a lover in your bedroom, I am sure you will feel like killing her, and so she, if she found you in bed with another woman she would like to kill you.

At 5/04/2006 06:06:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Beirut Bombshell: The assassination of a former Prime Minister may have been linked to the collapse of Lebanon's Bank al-Madina."

It's quite possible that the Madinagate was a factor that led to Hariri's assassination, but if it were so it would be one factor among others, and probably not the most important one. I may be reading too much into your post, but if you're trying to imply that Hariri's assassination was more related to Ghazale rather than Assad (Ghazale is said to be the main beneficiary of the Madina scandal), then you're clearly mistaken.

At 5/04/2006 07:57:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

it has been more than a week since Brammertz met Assad and his entourage,from their response up till now ,one concludes that they are not happy, and something is bothering them.

At 5/04/2006 08:26:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

What happened in Aleppo made me sad and made me wonder about who will win in a free election a party with a platform to legalize hounor killing ,Ehsani do you realy want to replace this regime with such a party.? I say no,They are not ready.

At 5/05/2006 04:29:00 AM, Blogger syrianb said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/05/2006 04:32:00 AM, Blogger syrianb said...

The islamists will be part of the government sooner or later,and i dont think that there will be a problem.

The syrian brotherhood is an old party and had good reputation during the parliament era.

paradoxically,it's totalitarian regimes and the restriction of freedoms that cause frustrations,resulting in withdrawal into oneself,hatred and radicalization.

The syrian people 50 years ago was more liberal and in the same time pro islamists like Dr Maaruf Dawalibi were well qualified and respected ministers.

At 5/05/2006 08:28:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

Putting the squeeze on Syria

5 May 2006
The Baltimore Sun
Copyright 2006, The Baltimore Sun. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- Reports from Syria indicate that President Bashar Assad is engaged in a systematic crackdown on his opposition.

The good news is that Syria may be feeling the pressure of U.S. efforts to promote reform in the world's last Baathist regime, including a promised $5 million to pro-democracy groups.

The bad news is that the crackdown shows that despite U.S. efforts, Mr. Assad still feels confident enough to strong-arm his opponents.

Washington has been pursuing a policy of pressuring Damascus since 2002, when it became clear that Syria was helping Saddam Hussein in his looming fight with the United States. Initially, the Bush administration was stunned by Mr. Assad's audacity. When jihadis flowing into Iraq from Syria started to kill U.S. troops after the war began, the frustration turned to anger.

After senior Bush administration officials tried and failed several times to persuade Mr. Assad to curtail his support for the anti-U.S. insurgents, Washington implemented an incremental policy of pressure, starting with the signing of the 2003 Syria Accountability Act. But the policy kicked into high gear after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a crime for which Syria is considered the leading suspect.

Since the Hariri killing, several key Syrian government figures have been designated as supporters of terrorism, among them Mr. Assad's brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the director of military intelligence.

On March 9, the Treasury Department implemented the final order for Patriot Act sanctions against the Central Bank of Syria, mandating that U.S. banks sever all correspondent accounts with the Syrian bank.

U.S. rhetoric on Syria also has been strong. In early April, for example, the administration condemned Syria for continuing to "interfere in the Lebanese political process and intimidate the Lebanese people."

Is the policy of financial sanctions and tough language working? The answer is mixed. While the pressure is clearly having some effect, there is little sign that it has succeeded in compelling the regime to change its behavior regarding Iraq, Lebanon and general support for terrorism.

Maintaining momentum to compel behavior change has proved a challenge. Initially, the process stalled because of some grudging Syrian cooperation in the fight against al-Qaida. Then the pressure eased when Washington and Damascus discussed security on the Iraqi border. In late 2005, additional measures were put on hold to avoid prejudicing the publication of the U.N. report on the investigation into the Hariri murder.

The Hariri investigation illustrates the momentum problem. Publication of the first U.N. report in October 2005 implicated Syria in the killing, turning up the heat. The second report, published in December, was more circumspect. (The same day the document was published, anti-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarian Gibran Tueni was assassinated in Beirut).

Lebanese politics since the withdrawal of Syrian troops last year also has buoyed the Assad regime. In the beginning, the Cedar Revolution gave rise to hopes that the Lebanese finally would work together to rebuild their country's political system and evict the remaining vestiges of Syrian occupation. But petty infighting and parochial interests have interfered, with Syrian allies and agents reaping the benefit.

All of this is good news for Mr. Assad's regime. The Syrians believe time is on their side. If they can wait just two more years, President Bush will be counting his final days in office and Washington's surprising ally in the anti-Assad coalition - French President Jacques Chirac - will have been replaced. Mr. Assad hopes for more sympathetic U.S. and French administrations.

For Washington, now is the time for a full-court press. The pressure strategy is working but requires some additional international - particularly European - assistance. Only with a fully joint U.S.-European approach can a tough policy toward Syria have a chance of success. To get the Europeans on board, Washington will have to convince key European capitals that behavior change - and not regime change - is the true policy goal.

Given how much other pressing issues - Iraq and Iran, to name just two - will crowd out the trans-Atlantic agenda, this is the only way to gain European confidence about Washington's true intentions. So long as America does not sell out the potential for a home-grown democratic reform movement to emerge as a result of the pressure strategy, Washington should be open to European ideas on pressing Mr. Assad for changing his problematic behavior.

Regrettable as it may be, without the Europeans, the U.S. efforts to promote change in Syria will remain on the right course but not cross the finish line.\

David Schenker, a former adviser to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Syria and Lebanon, is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At 5/05/2006 09:42:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...


Youa re partly right that many Islamists proved to be open minded enough to co-exists within a secular government. In Turkey for example, they did a great job I think.

But the times have changed. These are confrontation years and there are frequent challenges taking place that will test the ability of a Syrian "Islamist" character to remain more or less neutral.

I have a general question to all of you: To what degree do you feel it is possible for a fundamentalist Muslim politician to keep religion out of state affairs? ... this concept is western in origin, can it be compatible with Islam?

The reason I am asking is because a Canadian friend (professor) raised this point yesterday: Islam is not supposed to be separated from politics, it is supposed to guide them.

At 5/05/2006 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

"a fundamentalist Muslim politician to keep religion out of state affairs" It's not purely a western concept, I think the Turkish system is an example of this kind of progressive political system, if the Syrian regime is willing to change and have an open mind to an adaptive political system, they should seriously study the Turkish political system.

At 5/05/2006 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

The article has been fully published now .. Good job Josh..


At 5/05/2006 11:36:00 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Atassi I agree about the current Turkish government, but don't forget the Turkish system was set by ataturk after western systems. Also, don't forget the Turkish system is anchored through the secular army which did not hesitate in the past to remove the previous Islamic government elected democraticvalyy when they did not play by the secular rules.


How would you feel if the Syrian army annuled an election through which the MB won and started to make some "unacceptable" statememnts?

At 5/05/2006 01:36:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

I would feel awful and very angry for sure, unless, the army act was designed to protect the people constitution. When Syria has a set democratic system , and an amended democratic constitution, One of the top priority of the army would be to protect the constitution form any misdeed forced upon it by a party or an interest group.

At 5/05/2006 01:37:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

and Thank you for the link Alex.

At 5/06/2006 12:20:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

ok, Atassi, what is your opinion regarding Ammar's formula for a way to accomodate both:

1) a proper representation by the sunni majority
2) a "veto" power for the minorities that ensures their rights are always protected

in the comments section on Ammars blog

"Indeed, in my first meeting with Assef Chawkat I have proposed the idea of a bicameral assembly, where proportional representations determine who control the House of Representatives, while the Senate is made up of equal number of senators from the country’s different provinces. This will ensure that the majority in the Senate is made of representatives of minority groups. The Senate will be in charge of revising all laws passed by the House of Representatives to ensure that they don’t transgress against the secular nature of the State or issues of minority rights. The Senate will also control the Security apparatuses and the army.

The President will be an Alawite and will have limited powers, while the daily affairs of the state will be run by the PM who will be chosen by the House of Representatives, meaning that the PM will most likely be an Arab Sunni Male. This formula, I thought, will allow moderate Islamist movements to control the House of Representatives without fearing for the basics rights of citizens, recreating the Turkish Model somehow."

At 5/06/2006 01:35:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/06/2006 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Today on Danish TV, journalist Mona Eltahawy partially discussed the same issue (she even mentioned Bahsar)

The website is in Danish, but the TV interview is English:

select may 5th and click on 7th or 8th item where it says mona eltahawy

At 5/06/2006 11:22:00 PM, Blogger George Ajjan said...

Alex, glad that you brought up Ammar's proposals. I do not agree with all of his ideas, however he stands out amongst Syrian "opposition" characters because unlike many others, he is a realist. He is not naive; he possesses enough wisdom to respect the strengths of the current regime and recognize that pouting about their shortcomings accomplishes nothing.

At 5/07/2006 05:48:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

Isreal stoping all money to reach the goverment of Hamas, I say all the oil lines that come from iraq and Saudia arabia, that cross syria,jordan and saudia arabia and flow to isreal must stop till isreal allow the money to get to the palastinian.

At 5/07/2006 07:43:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

I did not know that Arab oil flow to israel except from Egypt ,can you confirm.?

At 5/08/2006 03:21:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

I dont know where Majed gets his info because its NOT true. israel gets its oil through tankers that usually come from Turkey's Bosphorus strait. They are also developing an underwater pipline for natural gas with turkey.

Before 1979 Israel used to get its oil from Iran but now its mostly from Egypt, Mexico.

There is however a British-era pipeline that runs from Northern Iraq through Jordan to Haifa but its has been for as long as israel has existed.

At 5/11/2006 05:09:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

General Clark confirms the existence of a "five-year campaign plan", comprising Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran:

In his speech, Clark, who has been a harsh critic of the Iraq war, also recalled the early days after Sept. 11, when he says he learned of plans to invade Iraq. About a week after the attacks, he said he visited the Pentagon and was told of the Iraq plan by the generals in the joint staff who used to work for him. “I was absolutely stunned,” he said.

Several months later, after the United States had begun its war in Afghanistan, Clark asked if the Iraq invasion was still the plan. He said his military contacts told him, “ ‘Oh sir, it’s worse than that. This is the memo that outlines a five-year campaign plan: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and we’re going to end up in Iran.’ ”
Nashua Telegraph

At 5/11/2006 07:53:00 AM, Blogger Atassi said...

Syria's secular regime attempts to ride a religious revival

MIDDLE EAST: Bashar al-Assad is making unfamiliar displays of piety to defuse Islamist discontent with his rule.
11 May 2006
Financial Times
Page 15
"They're like someone who has had a big surgical operation, which might have been fatal, but he didn't die." Yassin Haj Saleh, a Syrian writer and dissident, is describing his country's Ba'athist government. "But now he has to be extremely cautious about his health and he's holding on to life very tightly."

Tellingly, the patient has also turned to religion.

A new Islamic fervour is abroad in Syria as the regime headed for six years by President Bashar al-Assad, and for 30 years by his father, Hafez, before him, abandons what was a fiercely secular identity. Mr Assad prays more visibly and made a special appearance at a commemoration in Damascus last month of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, an event that had rarely roused much interest in Syria. This year was different. Banners were hung on lamp posts and festivals organised in every town.

That followed a fraught time for the regime, which faces a United Nations investigation into the alleged involvement of top Syrian officials in the killing last year of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister (a charge Damascus denies). Washington, leading efforts to isolate Syria, had been hoping an internal coup would sweep the regime aside.

But in recent months the strains have eased as the US and Europe have turned to more pressing crises - Iran's nuclear dispute and the election of the radical Hamas group in the Palestinian territories. With Iraq sliding into sectarian conflict, Arab states also have softened their attitude towards Damascus, fearing that a collapse of the regime would bring similar chaos.

Still, a progress report on the UN inquiry is due to be delivered to Kofi Annan, secretary-general, next month and an internationally supported tribunal is being set up to try those who will be directly accused of responsibility.

With the prospect of more turbulence ahead, Mr Assad's priority has thus been to consolidate his rule and prevent any domestic challenge from taking advantage of outside pressures. So the government has been using religion to rally people around the flag while at the same time moving more forcefully against dissidents.

"Every time they (the regime) feel squeezed they try to flirt with Islamic symbols," says Mr Haj Saleh. "They attempt to give an Islamic legitimacy to the regime."

The Assad regime sees Islamists as the main threat in a country where the Sunni Muslim majority is ruled by a tiny minority that belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam. The regime went into a frenzy when Abdelhalim Khaddam, former vice-president, defected at the end of last year and in February formed an opposition front with exiled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned party that Mr Assad's late father brutally crushed in the 1980s.

According to Michel Kilo, an author and opposition figure, security services called in dissidents after the February announcement of the opposition front. "The message was that the front was a red line that could not be approached," says Mr Kilo.

Arrests of political activists intensified. Most were detained only briefly but opposition figures say Ali al-Abdullah, a writer, and his two sons were arrested in March and have not been heard of since.

Meanwhile, in a sign of playing to Islamist sentiment, Mr Assad recently appointed as vice-president Najah al-Attar, the former culture minister: her brother was a Muslim Brotherhood leader in exile. The regime has also allowed demonstrations in defence of the prophet to get out of hand - mobs torched the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Damascus in February during the uproar across the Muslim world over cartoon depictions.

More recently, the government has given a green light to a long-established movement led by a female preacher, Munira al-Qubaisi, to teach religion in mosques. The students of the elderly Ms al-Qubaisi have been organising religious lessons in homes for many years and have been instrumental in spreading religious sentiment among young women.

The religious revival in Syria is visible in the rising number of girls who wear the headscarf and the growing number of men who attend prayers at mosques.

"The government is trying to gain strength from a current that is on the scene and they're saying: 'I'm with you so support me against the outside world,'" says Haitham Maleh, a human rights lawyer.

"They also want to take the card from the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood - what can the Brotherhood say? The regime supports (regional Islamist groups such as) Hamas, Hizbollah, the resistance in Iraq, they build mosques, they had, for the first time ever, big celebrations for the birthday of the prophet," adds Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Ba'athist who has been calling for a modernisation of the party.

Some Ba'athists say the government is deliberately promoting conservative voices to keep people away from the more independent and radical groups, especially the Brotherhood.

One of the most prominent Islamic figures these days is Mohammad al-Habash, a member of parliament and head of the Islamic Studies Centre in Damascus.

A soft-spoken cleric, Mr Habash says that after the 1980s clash with the Brotherhood, there were official attempts to reduce the influence of religion - praying in the army, for example, was banned. More recently, however, "the government realised their attitude towards religion is a mistake. Now we find a relationship between the Islamic current and the government is getting closer day by day."

Some analysts in Damascus warn that playing the religious card could also backfire on the regime, making the ground more fertile for Islamist parties and perhaps for more radical groups than the Brotherhood, which rejects violence.

For now, Syrian intelligence services are watching mosques and scrutinising sermons and everyone is warned against political activity. "You have to be watching all the time and you have to manage the situation at every turn," says Ahmad al-Haj Ali, a former adviser to the information ministry.

At 5/11/2006 10:56:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


All they need now is to add the words:"Allah Akbar" to their flag (which is identical to the Saddam flag" anyway)!

At 5/11/2006 09:53:00 PM, Blogger zobahhan said...

all jam needs now is that queen up his ass. both sagging


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