Across the Bay

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kanaan Eliminated

I've had a feeling this was going to happen for quite some time now. Syria's Ghazi Kanaan "committed suicide" in his office this morning. For those of you who don't know what "committed suicide" means in Syria, it means someone committed it for him. It was "assisted" so to speak. Lots of these "suicides" took place when Bashar came to power, when all of a sudden, all his possible rivals all "committed suicide," some even managing several shots, and some "shooting themselves" in the back of the head.

I recently wrote in reaction to Volker Perthes' piece that Ghazi (an Alawite) was someone who could lead a coup. He's also been involved in a bitter power struggle with Bashar's in-law, Asef Shawkat. So it was a matter of time really.

This also had something to do with the Mehlis investigation. I've speculated that if Bashar was going to scapegoat someone, it was going to be Ghazi, and perhaps Rustom Ghazaleh (keep an eye out, maybe he'll "commit suicide" as well. Although, and I've said this before, the fact that he still hasn't been touched in any way, is telling.). But who knows how this developed... Maybe he suspected that Ghazi would cut a deal with the Americans (as I don't think he was one of the planners of Hariri's murder. As I've said, I think Bashar and his "New Guard" did it), and maybe then be used to remove Bashar from power. Better safe than sorry.

Syria has maintained its policy, and shows no signs of changing anything (with all due respect to my pal Josh on this issue), and they've been waving all their "cards" lately, and threatening the US not to touch them: you take us out, and we'll set Lebanon and the Palestinian territories on fire. Kanaan's death falls within that as well. These are thugs, and this is what thugs do. This is Bashar digging his heels, with his typical petty defiance, for the upcoming battle. Michael Young, commenting on a statement by an "Arab diplomatic official" on the Mehlis report, put it well: "[The Assad regime] is behaving increasingly, and probably legitimately, as if it were mortally threatened."

And Christiane Amanpour is interviewing him today on CNN. How these big-name journalists love to be water carriers for thugs... Timing is of essence.

Addendum: Ramzi over at the Lebanese Blogger Forum informs us that Ghazi "had a radio interview this morning on VoL radio in Lebanon and asked that the interview be distributed to all news agencies. In it he refuted claims made by NTV last night that he had given damning testimony to the UN investigation team headed by Detlev Mehlis."

I had heard about that New TV report, which claimed that Ghazi admitted to Mehlis about the corruption of the Syrian-Lebanese security order in Lebanon. At this stage, and with this type of regime (remember people, these are not statemen, no matter how much Landis wants to portray them as such. These are paranoid thugs), and with the kind of relationship Asef (who's one of the top people involved in Hariri's murder) and Ghazi had, this is really not a shocking surprise. (An English transcript of the interview on VoL can be found here, courtesy of BBC News.)

Update: Kais, of the Beirut to the Beltway blog, links to a Reuters report that mentions Kanaan's Voice of Lebanon interview. "I think this is the last statement I might give," Kanaan said at the end of the phone interview with Voice of Lebanon.

Update 2: Athena of Terrorism Unveiled has a nice round-up and backround post that quotes one of my earlier posts on Kanaan. I should clarify here that the leaks about Ghazi "stepping down" (i.e., removed) from his post were probably by Asef and his people, who like I said was involved in a bitter power struggle with Kanaan. It never materialized, and some have told me that Kanaan might come out on top in his fight with Asef, that is if he's not killed before then! Furthermore, when I talked about scapegoating Ghazi, I didn't imply that he was part of the Hariri assassination plot. I don't think he was. At the time, I was exploring ways that Bashar would try to save his hide. I think we may be beyond that at this stage.

Addendum 2: I just spotted this report in Naharnet quoting Tony Blair as saying that "the Assad regime will have to take 'appropriate action' if Syrian officials are implicated in Rafik Hariri's assassination, and asserted he knows nothing about a deal with the Bush administration to grant Syria's top officials immunity against the fallout of the impending Detlev Mehlis report." There's a mention in there of an op-ed by Edward Walker in the IHT.

Walker writes, "If overzealous subordinates are implicated, and the trail stops there, he could rally public support for an overhaul of his own regime. If such a move were accompanied by greater civil liberties and fewer secret police, Syrians would probably back his presidency as he struggled to root out those loyal to Hariri's assassins. Bush should demand nothing less. If Bashar does not have the power to bring the guilty to justice, the regime in Syria should suffer international isolation and stringent sanctions." In a sense, this is one of the points Perthes explored, although he expressed skepticism as to Bashar's abilities. If Bashar plays along, and uses this to theatrically start his "reforms" that were allegedly thwarted by all those keeping him down, then he should be given a chance to comply with international demands, as long as the officials are punished, the logic goes.

You know where I stand on this, and I don't think Bashar will initiate a meaningful "reformist revolution," or to use their lingo, a Corrective Movement -- Haraka Tashihiyya (so far, he's replayed the same old Syrian strategy: offer a hint of what you supposedly could do to help, while simultaneously showing all the ways you could inflict damage, and maintain a posture of petty defiance). The suggestion by Walker of a trail stopping with "overzealous subordinates" is ridiculous, and wilfully blind to the workings and structure of the Syrian hierarchy (see Naseer al-Asaad's piece that touches on this point). No "overzealous subordinate" would make this kind of move on their own without an order from the very top. Besides, even if the initial report stops there, the post-report mechanisms won't necessarily do that. But wouldn't it be something if even in his death, Kanaan was used as a scapegoat?! I mean, I don't think Bashar will be able to get away with it, but I wouldn't put it past him. It's the kind of move he would come up with. It would be consistent with what I wrote earlier about scapegoating Ghazi (but again, the absence of Rustum is telling).

Update 3: After initially dismissing the feasibility of a coup involving an Alawite, and leaving out Ghazi as a possibility, Josh Landis is now considering it as the reason behind Kanaan's death: "Bashar's strongest suit is that there is not alternative to his rule. Washington must either accept him as president or tempt the fates that Syria will collapse into some form of social chaos. Now that Ghazi Kanaan is no longer alive, it is hard to imagine another Alawi in the government who would have the authority, knowledge, or standing to pull off a coup." Josh is right in his characterization of Kanaan's relationship with Lahoud, and his role in the Hariri murder, as I've written here in this post and before. At least Josh is no longer selling us the Bashar as reformer bull.

Update 4: Abu Aardvark is leaning towards "the scapegoating the dead Kanaan -- read, "old Guard" -- for the Hariri murder" theory that I alluded to earlier. Western journalists have cultivated this theory for so long, that he may try to capitalize on it. It may work, but somehow I don't think it will. It's just not that simple, I don't think.