Across the Bay

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Did Assad Threaten Khoja?

I came upon this story today in the Kuwaiti al-Ra'i al-'Aam about the terrible state of Saudi-Syrian relations.

Assad has been leaking that it was him who "convinced" Hamas's Meshaal to go to Mecca and reach an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas. Anyone who observes Syrian media, Syrian leaks (through Hamidi in al-Hayat), and other Syrian apparatchiks, knows that the Syrians have saturated the press with this pathetic claim, that somehow they were instrumental in making the Mecca Accord succeed (which is understandable, given the laughable embarrassment they suffered in their own attempt at playing that role in Damascus).

As with everything Assad does, it's a painfully transparent scam. More to the point, however, is that it was totally dismissed by the Saudis for the scam that it is. Here's the Saudi King talking about the Mecca Accord. At one point, discussing the run-up to the meeting in Mecca, he noted that "Egypt was mediating between the parties, so too was Jordan." Where is Syria?! Nowhere to be found. In fact, it could be that the King jabbed at Syria when he went into Palestinian internecine killing. If you recall, after the failure of the Damascus fiasco meeting, the Palestinians continued to kill each other for a few weeks before the Mecca meeting was arranged.

If this was the Syrian attempt to claim credit for a (Saudi) diplomatic success, the regime's ineptness is matched by its effort to scare its self-made enemies. The regime apparently has threatened the Saudi Ambassador in Beirut Abdel Rahman Khoja could be assassinated. The warning was coupled with a Syrian intelligence report sent to the Saudis pointing to two fundamentalist organizations targeting Khoja, one of which was (naturally!) "Jund al-Sham."

Such is the transparency of the Syrian regime. Presented as a "goodwill message," it is in fact a direct threat to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador using the Syrian regime's favorite tool (whenever they are in need for a "fundamentalist organization" -- like, say, to attack the US embassy in Damascus, etc.) Jund al-Sham! It's really priceless, and a testament to the Syrian regime's ingenuity.

In fact, well-placed sources in Lebanon had told me, quoting high-ranked officials, that Khoja "was threatened" and had restricted his movements (especially since he was trying to get Berri and Hariri to meet, something the Syrians were keen to obstruct). This report may then be a confirmation of that information.

This is all Assad's clumsy effort to coerce the Saudis into acquiescence. I had argued that the Ain Alaq terrorist bombing was possibly one such bloody extortion ahead of the Arab summit in Riyadh due in late March. The daily discovery of explosive devices in Lebanon is also likely the same, er, "goodwill message."

I repeat: the Assad regime only has -- and only knows -- terrorism. That's it. That's all they have. These are not -- and can never be -- "constructive players." Take away terrorism, and they're left with nothing. That's why they are going all out to torpedo the international tribunal.