Bahjat Suleiman Moved along with Other Security Chiefs
After retiring his two Vice-Presidents Abdel-Halim Khaddam and Mohammed Zouhair Musharaqah, President Bashar al-Asad is rearranging his security officers, beginning with Bahjat Suleiman, who has been the strong-man of the security forces since he first helped Bashar succeed his father to the presidency. Damascus: Bahjat Suleiman moved from his post Syria, Politics, 6/17/2005 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made on Thursday important changes in the structure of the leadership of certain Syrian security forces. He issued several decrees, one of them transfers Lt. Gen. Bahjat Suleiman from his post as a chief for the internal security forces in the general intelligence department ( state security ) to the general headquarters, seven years after assuming this post. For most of the Syrians, Suleiman's removal from this post is a big relief because he used to be personally responsible for nominating irresponsible candidates as ambassadors and chief of executive posts. In place of Suleiman, al-Assad appointed Lt. Gen. Nasif Kheir Bek (the chairman of the technical branch in the military intelligence branch). He also appointed Lt. Gen. Hassan Khallouf (chairman of Palestine Branch of the military intelligence branch ) as a deputy director for the general intelligence Lt. Gen. Ali Mamlouk who had replaced Lt. Gen. Hisham al-Ikhtiar after the latter (Ikhtiar) assumed his post as a chairman for the national security bureau in the Baath party regional leadership. He also appointed Lt. Gen. Saeed Sammour ( chairman of the region's branch in the military intelligence department) as a deputy chairman for the military intelligence branch which is led by Lt. Gen. Asef Ahawkat since February 14, this year. Sobhi Hadidi, a prominent Syrian intellectual, wrote this about Bahjat Suleiman in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi in April, 2005:
General Bahjat Suleiman (61), head of branch 251 of the intelligence and the strongest person in this apparatus. He enjoys significant authority and privileges that exceed those of the head of the same apparatus, General Hisham Bekhtyar. Suleiman’s position has more than one aspect that makes him different from all the other figures in this small circle of authority. He is, from one side, the godfather of the inheritance of office vision as he was the first to call for Bashar to succeed his father just a few hours after Hafez’ death. He is also the authority’s right hand when it comes to controlling intellectuals, writers, and artists, penetrating their associations, and threatening them, thus making sure that their projects that call for democratic change fail. He would resort sometimes to convey the authority’s opinion in important issues indirectly via political commentaries that he either signs with his own name or with a pen name. The article published in the Lebanese As-safir newspaper in mid-2003 is one example where he was the first to warn of a demographic earthquake in Lebanon should Syria withdraw its forces.Robert Rabil of WINEP wrote on May 9, 2005 of the top power-brokers in the country:
The country’s informal levers of power remain in the hands of Alawi officials. Bashar’s brother, Maher, has emerged as the strongman of the Republican Guards, whose main function is to protect the presidential palace and the capital. Ghazi Kenaan, former chief of intelligence in Lebanon and confidant of Bashar’s father, was appointed minister of interior in October 2004. Kenaan developed a reputation for his shrewd manner and brutal tactics, though he has come to advocate gradual reform. Bashar’s brother in-law, Asef Shawkat, was recently appointed chief of military intelligence; he is considered a hardliner. Bahjat Suleiman, another hardliner, heads the internal security division of the General Intelligence Directorate, and his influence surpasses that of organization chief Hisham Bakhtiar. (It should be noted that, according to the rumor mill in Damascus and Beirut, Maher, Shawkat, and Suleiman supported the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri while Bashar and Kenaan opposed it.) Gen. Muhammad Mansoura replaced Kenaan as head of the Political Security Directorate, and his power is reportedly on the rise. Gen. Zoul Himma Chaliche, Bashar’s cousin, is in charge of protecting the president. Gen. Ali Habib replaced Hasan Turkmani as chief of staff in May 2004, while Turkmani replaced Mustafa Tlas as defense minister. All of these officials, with the exception of Turkmani, are Alawis with tribal and/or familial connection to Bashar (as his last name connotes, Turkmani is a Turkman). The only Sunni official with significant power is Vice President Abd al-Halim Khaddam, whose hardline policies are infamous.Here is what Middle East Intelligence Bullitine wrote about Suleiman in August 2000 to demonstrate that he was a real power behind the throne.
Since Bashar himself has so little experience running the system, members of the New Guard have been given a great deal of autonomy. An excellent illustration of this is the dramatic chain of events that led to the exile of former chief-of-staff Hikmat Shihabi in June and his return to Syria last month. In early June, as the late Syrian President Hafez Assad lay on his deathbed, the daily Al-Hayat published leaks by "official" Syrian sources indicating that Shihabi would soon be indicted on corruption charges. Shihabi, who was in Beirut at the time, promptly boarded a plane and took off for exile in California. At the time, it was assumed that Shihabi was simply the latest target in Bashar's anti-corruption drive. Last month, however, Shihabi suddenly returned to Syria and officially met with Bashar at the presidential palace in Damascus. Most observers assumed that the new Syrian president had changed his mind for some reason and decided to "rehabilitate" Shihabi. However, according to informed sources, Bashar had nothing to do with Shihabi's departure in the first place. The entire scheme to facilitate Shihabi's exit by making the leaks to Al-Hayat was undertaken independently by Bahjat Suleiman, the head of internal affairs at the General Security Directorate and one of Bashar's closest advisors. Suleiman, like many other members of the minority Alawite establishment, apparently feared that Shihabi (a Sunni Muslim) might cause trouble after the Syrian president's death. In any case, a source close to former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri (a close friend of Shihabi who saw him off at the airport) told MEIB that Bashar discovered the plot and phoned Hariri to explain, but by then the plane had already taken off. Only after repeated assurances during the next month did Shihabi agree to return.