Commentary: Syria terror broker no more?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI editor at large   |   Oct. 20, 2005 at 1:19 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- Some European and Arab intelligence services have now concluded the late Ghazi Kenaan's death on Oct. 12 was homicide made to look like suicide. President Bashar Assad and his immediate entourage, according to this latest theory, had decided to turn a page in their relations with EU, France and the United States. But Kenaan was firmly opposed to Syria doing a Col. Moammar Gadhafi, the ebullient Libyan leader who turned state's evidence against himself, exposed apologetically his plans to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and offered up relevant materials for destruction.

Assad and cronies, nudged gently by Jordan's King Abdullah, became convinced Kenaan, Syria's most powerful man and feared by Assad himself, ordered the assassination of Lebanon's equally powerful business and political figure, the anti-Syrian former premier Rafik Hariri. The Lebanese multibillionaire, largely responsible for the reconstruction of Beirut after a 15-year civil war, had been agitating for the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces from his country.

Proconsul in Lebanon for 20 years, Kenaan was recalled to Damascus in 2002 to head Syria's political intelligence organization and two years later, he joined the Cabinet and became interior minister. He controlled the entire country and its 14 different intelligence services reported to him.

After six months of investigating the Feb. 14 killing by bombing of Hariri, the U.N. commission of inquiry, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, was on the verge of a spectacular breakthrough. This provoked panic in Syrian presidential politics. Fearless, Mehlis subpoenaed and detained four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals - one of them commander of the presidential guard. The trap was closing rapidly on Kenaan, now the mastermind of the plot to terminate Hariri.

Last month, Lebanese authorities arrested four men who sold mobile phone chips to the plotters. Next Mehlis and his team drove to Damascus to interview Kenaan and

Gen. Rustum Ghazala, who succeeded Keenan as proconsul and intelligence chief in Beirut. It soon became clear Mehlis had the goods on both of them.

In Damascus, according to Foreign Report, published by Jane's Information Group in London, the U.N. investigators demanded data from Syriatel and Spacetel, Syria's two principal mobile phone operators. Everything was provided with one glaring exception. It related to one particular transmission station serving Lebanon.

At this stage, the United Nations also suspects Kenaan was wasted as a sacrificial lamb that absolved Assad and his cronies from any responsibility in Hariri's assassination.

A minority of European and Arab intelligence services cling to the theory Kenaan could not face the publication of the Mehlis report, as he knew he would be fingered as the principal culprit. Officially, Syrian regime flaks say Kenaan's suicide was an honorable exit for a man who could not bear to face phony allegations against him and his country.

Fearful the forthcoming Mehlis report would be a pistol aimed at the heart of the Syrian regime and give the United States a pretext to bomb suspected relay points along the border for jihadis making their way to Iraq from Europe and other Arab countries, Assad decided a radical change in policy would be the better part of valor. He has told recent diplomatic visitors he is anxious to stop "the underground railroad" of foreign jihadis using Syrian territory. And yet they keep trickling in. Veteran jihadis are also exfiltrating back to Europe where French intelligence believes they are passing on their newly acquired terrorist skills to young Muslims, now jobless in the poorer neighborhoods of major European cities.

Most Syrian generals harbor deep resentment against Assad for caving in to international pressure to withdraw the Syrian army from Lebanon after Hariri's assassination. Drug trafficking from the Bekaa valley and black marketing made Lebanon a plum assignment for Syrian military.

Many of Lebanon's high-profile, anti-Syrian personalities received death threats and tell their friends they expect major street disturbances in the coming weeks. Some have not yet returned from their annual vacations in their second homes in France.

An anti-Assad military coup is also a possibility. Between the end of the French mandate over Syria after World War II and the 1970 coup by Air Force chief Hafez Assad, Bashar's father, the country experienced 21 military coups.

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