Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Syria at the crossroads

UN Resolution 1636 was unanimously approved by the Security Council on Monday, following the UN Mehlis probe into the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Debka (pinch of salt) has an interesting article on rats abandoning the sinking ship. Faced with possible sanctions, travel bans and freezing of assets, high level figures linked to the Damascus regime are fleeing the country and transferring their money and businesses abroad.

Bashar Assad’s close associates have already decided that escape is the better part of valor. Influential Syrian VIPs appear to have read the UN resolution carefully last week and are absconding. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal large cash withdrawals from Syrian banks, currency conversions and transfers to banks outside the country. The flight of money was accompanied by an exodus of some of the leading families of Damascus – anxious to beat “the ban on travel and assets freeze” mandated by the UN resolution for suspects in the Hariri murder plot. The largest capital transfer – estimated at $6-7bn – was made by the tycoon Rami Makhlouf who lost no time in removing himself, business and family from Damascus to Dubai.

His is not the only defection. Several other affluent Syrian businessmen close to the regime have also decamped. The second richest man in the country, Firas Tlas, has moved lock, stock and barrel, to Abu Dhabi. DEBKAfile’s sources report the secret flit of General Bahajat Suleiman, head of Syria’s intelligence council and virtual overlord of the national clandestine services.

What can Assad do now? He ran crying to the Arab League, but it is very doubtful that they'll back him. My bet is that Assad, officially through his own investigation, will try to put all of the blame on Kanaan (recently "suicided") and, to make matters look more realistic, on Emile Lahoud, his "collaborator" in Beirut (if I interpreted what Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara said yesterday correctly).

Lahoud is now useless to Assad and to himself. He recently flew secretly to Damascus to ask for help but it is more likely that he was asked to do a "Kanaan". It will be interesting to see if he complies (before or after resigning as Lebanon's president) or if he chickens out and spills the beans to the UN commission in exchange for protection.

That, probably, will not be enough and Assad will have to sacrifice someone much closer to himself:

His young brother Maher Assad, or his sister’s husband, Assed Shawqat? Both top the Mehlis list of Syrian suspects in the Hariri murder plot.

Whatever Assad does, he can blame only himself for the mess he is in. As Iraq the Model puts it:

Finally, if the regime in Syria complied with International legitimacy and gave up on supporting gangs operating against the peoples of Lebanon and Iraq, this will consequently have a positive effect on Iraq’s security but…if the Ba’ath regime of Syria decided to move on with their flawed plan and ignored the world then I think they will meet the same fate of Saddam’s. I personally think they will commit one mistake after another.

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