Across the Bay

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Assef's Frozen

The US Treasury Department has decided to freeze the assets of Bashar's brother-in-law and head of Syrian military intelligence Assef Shawkat who was named in the Mehlis report as a suspect in the assassination of PM Hariri. He was named "for directly furthering the Government of Syria's support for terrorism and interference in the sovereignty of Lebanon."

The timing is interesting, as it comes amidst mainly Egyptian activity (with a role for Saud al-Faysal) to find a compromise over the interrogation of Assad by the UNIIIC. Rumors were flying that Bashar has again floated the idea to the Egyptians and Saudis that he would be willing to cooperate as long as he and his inner circle, including Shawkat, were off limits.

However, it seems that VP Cheney's visit with the Egyptians and Saudis has demolished any such ideas. At any rate, it was all futile posturing, as there's very little Egypt can do anyway. But just to be sure, Adam Ereli was quoted in an-Nahar as telling al-Hurra that Cheney carried a clear message that Damascus "cannot escape paying the price of its responsibility in assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri." He added, "VP Dick Cheney related to the officials in Egypt and Saudi Arabia the seriousness of the US and the international community in holding accountable those responsible for the crime of the assassination of Hariri from President Asad down to the bottom of the pyramid."

At the same time, Amr Moussa comes out with this statement: "the closing of the investigation and not knowing the truth will harm the normal and healthy progress of matters in Lebanon and the Arab region," stressing "the importance of Lebanon's security and stability, and the need to continue with the investigation into the assassination of Hariri until the truth is found."

As far as actually causing pain to Shawkat, this move by the Treasury Dept. is not that effective, because he has no money in the US, but it does put banks across the world on notice, and they get skittish about dealing with him and other members of the Syrian elite. As a message, however, it speaks more loudly. Forget all this nonsense about a compromise deal. The "family" is not off limits.