Ghazi Kanaan - the Most Senior Alawi - Suicide? Or was it Murder?
Syria's interior minister, who ran Lebanon as security chief until 2003, committed suicide Wednesday, days before the expected release of a United Nations report into the assassination of a former Lebanese leader, Syria's official news agency reported.
"Interior Minister Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan committed suicide in his office before noon," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. "Authorities are carrying out the necessary investigation into the incident."
Kenaan was intelligence chief in Lebanon from 1982 until 2003, presiding over Syria's control of its neighboring country. He then headed Syria's powerful Political Security Directorate until becoming Interior
Minister in October 2004.
He reportedly was questioned by UN investigators in the probe of the Hariri's murder.
Hours before, Kenaan spoke to a Lebanese radio station, denying reports in Lebanese media that he showed the UN investigators cheques paid to him by the late Hariri.
"I think this is the last statement I might give," Kenaan
said at the end of the phone interview with Voice of Lebanon. On June 30, 2005, The U.S. Department of the Treasury named Ghazi Kanaan and Rustum Ghazali Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs), which is aimed at financially isolating individuals and entities contributing to the Government of Syria's problematic behavior. "Actions like today's are intended to financially isolate bad actors supporting Syria's efforts to destabilize its neighbors," said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.
Was Ghazi Kanaan setting himself up to be Bashar's alternative? Could he have been the Alawite "Musharrif" that some American's and Volker Perthes suggested would take power from the House of Asad and bring Syria back into America's and the West's good graces. I have heard from several people that "high ranking Syrians" have been complaining to people at the National Security Council and elsewhere that they are very distressed by the mistakes Bashar al-Asad has made and the terrible state of US-Syrian relations.
Could Ghazi have been setting himself up as the alternative to Bashar? Could the Syrian government believe he might have been? We don't know, but here goes the possible speculation. He is known to have had good relations with Washington, when he held the Lebanon portfolio. He visited DC. Two of his four sons went to George Washington University in DC.
Kanaan was reported to have been one of the "Old Guard" who spoke out against the extension of Emile Lahoud's presidency in Lebanon, which set the stage for Lebanon's Cedar revolution and the assassination of P.M. Rafiq Hariri. He had been one of the Syrians responsible for cultivating Hariri and building up his position in Lebanon. He was also accused of having significant business relations in Lebanon which tied him to Hariri. It is unlikely that he was involved in Hariri's murder, having been a Hariri and not Lahoud supporter.
His relations with Lahoud were strained, and Lahoud reportedly was one of the people who insisted that he be removed from the Lebanon file and replaced by Rustum Ghazali. (Told me by Nick Blanford of the Christian Science Monitor, who is writing a book on Hariri.)
Since the June Baath Party Conference, it has been rumored that Ghazi would lose his Cabinet position as Minister of Interior, where he had been causing quite a ruckus.
Kanaan was the most senior Alawi official left in government of the Hafiz's generation. He had served as an intelligence chief and minister of interior giving him influence over and knowledge of all branches of the security forces - intelligence and police. If Washington were to turn to anyone to carry out a coup against Bashar, it would have to place Ghazi Kanaan on the top of its list.
Could Kanaan have been assassinated in order to prevent him from challenging Bashar? We may never know, but it is possible.
Bashar al-Asad has been clamping down on all possible rivals. Civil society has been all but silenced since the June Baath Party conference. The Atasi forum shut down. Evidently Anwar al-Bunni, Damascus' leading civil rights lawyer and advocate is presently in hiding so he would be arrested. All emerging political movements have been broken up during the past several months. The Kurds are under intense pressure as are all Islamic organizations. 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.
Naharnet has just posted further details bout Ghazi's interview.
Hours before he died, Kanaan contacted the Beirut Voice of Lebanon radio station and gave it a statement, concluding with the words: "I believe this is the last statement that I could make." He asked seasoned interviewer 'Wardeh' to pass his comments to other broadcast media.
Kanaan said he was making the statement to 'Wardeh' to deny a report by another Beirut TV network, New TV, which said in its evening newscast Tuesday that Kanaan admitted to U.N. investigators that he was involved in money extortion and corruption during what he called 'my reign of Lebanon.'
New TV had said Kanaan told investigators that he brought the 2000 Lebanese election law that "we tailored to the measurements of Lebanese politicians loyal to Syria."
"Premier Hariri had at the time given me a $10 Million check and another $10 Million check to General Jamil Sayyed," New TV quoted Kanaan as saying in his testimony. "We were making money from Premier Hariri so how could we possibly kill him and close the flow of his riches."
General Sayyed was then the head of Lebanon's General Security Department or Surete Generale. He is now in jail on a charge of complicity in Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination.
New TV played back its Tuesday night report about Kanaan's alleged interview with the Mehlis commission, insisting 'it is one hundred percent accurate' despite General Kanaan's denial.
SANA did not reveal whether Kanaan shot himself dead or took a lethal poison pill.
Kanaan, who was born in Syria's northern port city of Latakia in 1942, is survived by his wife, four sons and two daughters.(AP-Naharnet)