Conspiracies, Regime-Change, and Jihadists
I will travel to London for a week beginning today, so I will not be able to post until I return to Damascus. Best to all, Joshua
Claude Salhani, the Washington Bureau Chief of UPI, has a new angle on the Assassinations in Lebanon. Based on the counter-terrorism expertise of Fred Burton, he points the finger at Rifaat al-Asad, Iran and possible Israel. In Damascus, such notions are popular. Here is his article:
Politics & Policies: Terror in BeirutBy Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Fred Burton, vice president of counter-terrorism with Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based outfit specializing in intelligence and counter-terrorism analysis, issued a report on June 22 describing the remotely detonated charge that killed George Hawi, the former Lebanese Communist Part chief, as "so sophisticated that few in the world could have done it."Most Lebanese and Americans are not buying this story; however, and news of a "hit list" of Lebanese opponents of Syria is the talk of the town. An-Nahar is reporting that
The counter-terrorism expert believes that the "complex nature of the Hawi attack narrows down the list of culprits to a few." Among the countries possessing that level of expertise are the United States, Britain, France, Israel and Russia. "This type of technology is only available to government agencies," Burton told United Press International.
Burton, who spent 15 years in U.S. counter-terrorism, told UPI that the "surgical nature of the charge" and the skill set that went into these bombings are "not available for your average terrorist organization."
Burton has investigated almost every bombing against American embassies over the past two decades and is familiar with the modus operandi used by various terrorist groups.
"Even al-Qaida and Hezbollah would not have this capability. Hezbollah are good bomb makers but their expertise is in truck bombs," Burton told UPI.
Stratfor's analyst also believes the same technology was used in the killing of Lebanese journalist, Samir Kassir on June 2. Kassir, a front-page political columnist with Beirut's leading An-Nahar newspaper was known for his opposition to Syria's involvement in Lebanese politics. The Lebanese opposition blamed the bombing on Syrian agents.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Syria to "knock it off" after George Hawi was killed in an assassination that closely resembles that of journalist Samir Kassir's.
Syria, however, says Burton, "lacks the finesse" to carry out such a job. Burton said he has investigated "a number of Syrian attacks. "This is not their style."
Stratfor's analysts point out that although Washington was quick to point a very prominent finger at Damascus for the killings, it is difficult to believe that the Syrian regime actually would have ordered Hawi's death.
"Not only are we picking up indications from Syria that the military there is baffled by what has happened, but there is a great deal of irritation that the attacks have occurred at all, since the killings are creating inconveniences for Damascus," states the report.
According to the Stratfor report, "Hawi may have been best-known as a 'prominent anti-Syrian' figure in Lebanon, but sources close to the Assad regime refer to him privately as a 'well-behaved friend.'
That raises the question: What exactly would Syria gain from eliminating a couple of Lebanese opposition figures when the regime itself is in a particularly vulnerable position following the forced military withdrawal from Lebanon?
Damascus, in this In this case, stands to lose more than it would gain from ordering the assassinations, simply to show that Lebanon risks falling back into a political abyss without Syrian protection.
"Whoever did this needed to have the capability to access Hawi's schedule. This is not your run-off-the-mill terrorist." Burton explains that the perpetrators of the attacks needed to have "eyes on." This means that someone had to be within eyesight to see the 'targets' enter their vehicles before pressing the remote control button that would detonate the explosive. Or at least passing on the message to the one holding the detonator.
The explosive charge that took Hawi's life was so precise that it injured his driver who was sitting next to him, but did not kill him. Hawi, 65, was killed instantly when the bomb blew up in his car as he was getting into it.
Hawi is the third prominent anti-Syrian to be killed this year.
Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a Feb. 14 bombing. Popular outrage over his assassination led to the April 26 withdrawal of Syrian troops after 29 years of occupation.
If Burton's analysis is correct - and everything leads one to believe it is - it would indicate that some very powerful and dark forces are at work in Lebanon.
Clare Lopez, executive director of the Iran Policy Committee and a former operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency told UPI "my instincts tells me to look to Tehran. They are the terror masters.
Burton agrees that Iran has the capability, "and they could show Hezbollah how to do it. It could be a contract hit." The question remains, why? What has any group to gain in killing a former politician?
The list of suspects runs high, admits Burton, adding that those who killed Hawi clearly wanted to send a message. The trouble is the message is not all that clear. Unless....
Unless you consider a pertinent questions asked by the Stratfor analyst: Suppose that these bombings were "merely collateral?" That the true target in the plot is the Syrian regime itself? If Damascus were being framed, who then would be the likely suspect?
Israel comes to mind. In fact the Lebanese Communist Party immediately accused Israel. But that is simply illogical. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is too tied up in the planned withdrawal from the Gaza settlements to risk such a venture. And renewed mayhem in Lebanon is not necessarily good news for Israel.
But as Stratfor states, there is "another possibility. "Someone closer to Damascus with a motive, and cloaked within the Assad name."
President Bashar's uncle, Rifaat Assad, who has been exiled from Syria by his brother Hafez, the former president, has recently been trying for a comeback to Syrian politics. In so doing, he has initiated talks with Syrian opposition groups, including, strangely enough, the Muslim Brotherhood. Rifaat has called for the removal of his nephew Bashar.
Before his fallout with his brother, Rifaat, long considered the black sheep of the family, commanded an elite military brigade, which under his command helped put down a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1983, in one of modern Syria's bloodiest chapters. It was not a pretty picture, with entire neighborhoods razed to the ground, compliments of Rifaat.
As the Stratfor paper points out, "The case remains open and the list of suspects is a long one. Rifaat Assad's name cannot yet be crossed off the suspect list just yet.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)
Jumblat has publicly ascertained that he is on Syria's 'death list,' calling on the population of the Druze Hinterland to stay "sensible and calm" if he is assassinated."U.S. Wants Both Lahoud, Berri out, But Rejects a Hizbullah Speaker" writes An-Nahar.
"This is my last will and testament," he said, warning the Druze community against repeating the blood bath of 1977, when some 200 Christian villagers were cut-throated in the aftermath of the assassination of Walid's father, Kamal Jumblat.
Jumblat urged to be given a public funeral similar to the million-strong procession that carried Rafik Hariri to his downtown Beirut grave.
Iraq style regime change not apt for Syria - Rice
The Bush administration was reported Saturday to be in favor of President Lahoud's departure from power and against Berri's reelection as Speaker of Lebanon's newly elected parliament, but would readily change its stance if Berri's removal could bring in a Hizbullah Speaker.
"The devil you know is better than a devil you do not know," one American administration source was quoted as saying by An Nahar's Washington correspondent Hisham Milhem. "A Hizbullah replacement is absolutely undesirable for the United States."
Lahoud's exit is desirable on the grounds that the United States and France had sponsored a U.N. Security Council resolution objecting to the extension of his term in power in September, which Syria nevertheless had strong-armed the Beirut parliament to endorse, Milhem quoted Bush administration officials as saying.
"No one supports any of those two persons," one official was quoted as saying, referring to Lahoud and Berri. "They have represented a government and security system that harmed Lebanon and the time has come to get rid of them."
The official, however, said this was an American desire "the translation of which into reality is something left to the new Lebanese parliament to do. It's not going to be an easy mission to accomplish."
6/25/2005 3:00:00 PM GMT
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iraq style regime change was not appropriate for Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted in remarks published Friday that an Iraq-style regime change was not appropriate for Syria, but said that Damascus must change its policies.
"What we want is to send the Syrians a clear message from everybody that their behaviour must change. This means that they should not be in a position to cause instability in Lebanon," the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quoted her as saying in an interview given to three Arabic-language newspapers.
When asked whether the U.S. administration would go as far as toppling President Bashar al-Assad's government, she said: "Every situation is different from the other. Syria is not Iraq and Iraq is not Syria.
"Iraq was a special case where there was a problem of weapons of mass destruction, backing "terrorism" and UN (Security Council) resolutions. We were also in a state of war with Iraq.
"The Syrian regime is capable of changing itself, its policies and its behaviour with its neighbours. This is the path we hope they will take," she said.
The Iraq border situation has become the main topic of American complaint. Syrian authorities are doing what they can to counter US accusations that they are allowing foreign fighters to stream into Iraq from Syria. Recently, the Foreign Ministry organized a trip of Damascus based Military Attaches and reporters to visit the border. Foreign Minister Sharaa has denied US claims and insists that Syria is turning a new page with Iraq and is ready to open a Syrian embassy in Baghdad. He demands proof of Syrian complicity, rather than allegations. The Big Eight governments are meeting next month and it is believed Syria will be a leading topic of their discussions. Syria must nip any talk of sanctions in the bud. The following BBC article is describes the propaganda war now being waged in anticipation of the G8 meeting.
Syria queries Iraq border claims
Mr Shara says Syria wants to check the accuracy of the claims.The Sunday times has a long article giving details of how Jihadists travel through Syria.
Syria says it will ask Baghdad for evidence of foreign fighters crossing its borders adding that it wants to open a "new page" with Iraq.
Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara also says Damascus hoped to reopen its embassy in Baghdad "very soon".
Washington has frequently accused Syria of allowing militants to cross into Iraq to join the insurgency there.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated the warning on Thursday, calling for less words and more action.
"This is a government that can take action on its border to prevent these cross-border activities which are really contributing dramatically to insecurity in Iraq," she said after a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London.
"So, if they are prepared to do it, they should just do it."
Mr Shara told reporters Syria wanted evidence of Washington's claims of cross-border activity.
"We will be contacting officials in Baghdad very soon to know the source and truth of these allegations," he said, adding that they would ask for documents and evidence.
He said Syria was "ready to co-operate and open a new page with Iraq".
"But we are not ready to hear every now and then accusations that may not have a basis of truth," he added.
"We want to confirm by words and deeds how accurate these accusations are and what solutions could be found."
He told reporters Syria hoped to send a delegation soon to Baghdad soon to discuss re-opening its embassy there.
US and Iraqi forces carried out a major offensive against militants in western Iraq's restive Anbar province, on the border with Syria, last week.
The US military said it had killed 50 rebels and arrested 100 others during Operation Spear.
June 25, 2005
Following the trail of death: how foreigners flock to join holy warWriting in al-Hayat, Randa Takieddine discusses the "French-American Détente over Syria" - 25/06/05
By Richard Beeston and James Hider
How long can the Syrian border remain porous?
IN A garden café on the airport road into Damascus clusters of young men gather to drink coffee, smoke shisha and hear some awe-inspiring accounts of death and glory that will lead many on a journey to certain death in the battle raging across the border in Iraq.
The owner, a former Mujahidin fighter, openly boasts of his exploits and those of his comrades still fighting the war against US forces. Like many veterans he is eager to recount his adventures in the hope of persuading others to join the cause.
A Syrian mother said that her son, a taxi driver, had succumbed to the call to arms last month and set off with a friend on the trail to Iraq, never to be heard of again.
Like thousands of other young men, drawn from across the Arab world and from Muslim communities as far away as Spain, France and even Sheffield, his final point of departure was Syria.
“It’s an individual decision. Once you’ve decided, you go to a mosque to make the initial contact. Then you are sent to a private home and from there for a week’s intensive training inside Syria,” she said. According to former fighters who spoke to The Times in Damascus, volunteers are given a crash course in using Kalashnikov rifles, firing rocket-propelled grenades and the use of remote detonators. The training takes place at secret camps in the Syrian desert, near the Iraqi border. Some attacks are even planned in advance in Damascus and Aleppo. Once the team is ready, a guide leads them across the rugged border into Iraq where they are taken to a safe house.
Most are filtered down the Euphrates river valley to join the insurgency’s combat cells, others crossing in the north head for the town of Tal Afar and the northern capital, Mosul.
Once dismissed as a small and insignificant part of the insurgency in Iraq, the US military now concedes that the threat posed by foreign fighters is one of the most dangerous they face.
If the might of the US military was humbled in South East Asia thanks in large part to the Ho Chi Min Trail, the jungle supply route that fed insurgents in South Vietnam, then American forces in Iraq today face no less a challenge from the fanatics who cross into Iraq from Syria.
Over the past few weeks US Marines have carried out a series of offensives in the western Iraqi province of Anbar to try to smash the Euphrates supply line, yet most of the towns along the river valley remain in rebel hands. The main border town of al-Qaim is even nicknamed the “jihad superbowl” by US forces.
“The way ahead is not going to be easy,” President Bush conceded yesterday, after meeting Ibrahim al- Jaafari, the visiting Iraqi Prime Minister, at the White House. “The enemy’s goal is to drive us out of Iraq before the Iraqis have established a secure, democratic government. They will not succeed.” General John Abizaid, the commander of the US Central Command, which is responsible for Iraq, told Congress on Thursday that he believed that more foreign fighters were entering the country now than six months ago.
Exact figures are hard to come by, but it is believed that several thousand fighters are in the country. Some are remnants of the thousands who poured in during the US-led invasion of Iraq. According to Lieutenant-General JohnVines, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, 150 foreign volunteers now cross into the country from Syria every month.
This week US forces raiding a hideout near the Syrian border found passports from Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia. There was even a return airline ticket from Tripoli to Damascus.
They represent only a fraction of the estimated 20,000-strong insurgent force and it is the most potent weapon in the rebel arsenal. Led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian fugitive who heads al-Qaeda in Iraq, most of the foreigners are used as volunteers for suicide car bomb attacks. Since the handover of sovereignty in Iraq a year ago, there have been 479 car bombers killing 2,174 people and wounding 5,520. In the latest incident, 6 US soldiers were killed and 13 Marines were wounded yesterday in a suicide attack in Fallujah, a town that was supposed to be under complete US military control.
Instead of confronting the foreign fighters inside Iraq, the Bush Administration is now turning up the pressure on Syria to stop the Mujahidin trail passing through its country.
“It is a fact that terrorists come across the Syrian border. It is also a fact that Syria is a dictatorship with a very large intelligence community. And one has to assume they know it is going on in their country,” Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said. (continue article click above.)
Lebanon and Syria were the “guests”, at the first meeting between Philippe Douste-Blazy, the new French Foreign Minister and his American counterpart Condoleeza Rice. The new French minister is an outspoken politician who speaks directly in sensitive issues.
Rice strived at comforting her European colleagues that the U.S. Administration has no intention to change the regime in Syria. The matter comforts France, the country that does not seek to take any risks in changing the regime of any country, regardless of its behavior. The French Minister stressed the need to toughen the international firm stand against Syria. Moreover, France underlined sharing with the U.S. administration the necessity to see that Syria does not undermine the stability of its neighbors, specifically Lebanon and Iraq. Primarily, France is highly concerned for Lebanon’s stability and attempt to recover, while the U.S. Administration is contemplating further strict measures against Syria. Both countries are very serious about reprimanding Syria, should the International community find that the Lebanese-Syrian security apparatus is involved in the previous and current assassinations in Lebanon. The investigations are ongoing, although away from the media hype. The U.S. Secretary of State has confirmed to her European colleagues that any new assassination in Lebanon will have some very serious consequences on Syria, since the latter is responsible for implementing UN resolution 1559 provisions. Furthermore, Rice informed several European Ministers that the Syrian regime still has not fully grasped all the messages and signs “repeatedly addressed by the United States”.
The French experience with the Syrian “respond” regarding the European messages has so far been similar to the American one. The Syrian negativity became a reconciliation point between Paris and Washington. At the beginning of French President Jacques Chirac’s presidential term and following the French attempts to set a dialogue approach with both Syrian presidents, Hafez Assad and his heir Bashar Assad; France reached a conclusion that the Syrian regime is at an ailing condition and incapable of listening any message or advice, let alone figure them out.
Several demands to resume the dialogue between Syria and France have emerged from the UN Secretary General Representative, Terje Roed-Larsen, and earlier from Iranian President Muhammad Khatami, who had advised during his meeting with Chirac, to resume the dialogue with Damascus. However, France has lost trust, since it exerted great efforts during the past four years, to open up to Syria and its President. However, Damascus’s persistence to extend Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s term in office, as the breach of all Syrian promises and commitments highly disappointed France.