Damascus Bombs and Mysteries
We still don’t know what really happened in Damascus the other day. No one would argue that Daoud Rajiha or Hassan Turkmani (who was more of a diplomat than an actual military leader) were key players in Syria.
Ever since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, Syrian ministers of defense have been figureheads. Hafez was minister of defense in the Salah Jadid government and knows full well how much powers a real minister of defense can possess.
Mustafa Tlass (a farce should be staged on Broadway about this man who published letters to pretty women around the world) was perfect for Hafiz — he had no power base, he was mediocre, and he had no political skills, and his loyalty to his boss was complete. The key man in the group was Asef Shawkat.
There are many questions about the meeting in question. At a time when the rebels were fighting the regime around Damascus, who in his right security mind would assemble the key elements of the security services in one room?
And the president of Syria usually presides over such meetings, and yet he was not harmed, nor were key elements of the military-intelligence apparatus, like the powerful Hafez Makhlouf.
What we know about the “bombing” is only based on the statements of the regime and on the braggart announcements by two rival opposition armed groups (and the announcements of the Free Syrian Army should be taken with a truck of salt especially that it never ever admits retreats — it merely speaks of “tactical withdrawals”). Many people in Damascus are questioning the account of the regime.
Asef Shawkat has not enjoyed good relations with the centers of power in Syria. The multiplicity of intelligence and security services is part of the legacy of Hafez al-Assad. But Hafez is no Bashar — he was in control of all the services and his presence was intimidating to all ambitious subordinates.
That is not the case with Bashar. Rivalries between the various security chiefs have not been kept in secrecy and Asef reportedly clashed with Maher al-Assad on more than one occasion.
There were even suspicions about the role of Asef Shawkat in the scandalous assassination of Imad Mughniyeh (the security apparatus of Asef was in charge of security in that quarter).
There were even stories about Asef being questioned in Tehran about this role and his influence has waned over the years, although he may have been resurrected in recent months.
Hassan Nasrallah and supporters of the Syrian regime are paying tributes to Shawkat. The Syrian people, and the rest of the world, did not know the man. He was a mysterious figure who shunned publicity (that is common in the security-obsessed Assad regime).
But American officials knew Shawkat and wrote about him in WikiLeaks — he was the key figure that coordinated the murderous intelligence cooperation between the two countries, where prisoners were dispatched to Syria (and other countries) to be tortured at the behest of a grateful US. That is an aspect of Shawkat that supporters of the regime don’t want to acknowledge.
Shawkat was also at the top of the intelligence hierarchy under which Rustum Ghazaleh, the notorious Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon until 2005, worked. (Ghazaleh, bizarrely, is chief of intelligence for Damascus and its environs).
Shawkat also had a long history in the repressive apparatus of the regime — he was in the special forces that perpetrated the Hama massacres in 1982. The tributes to Shawkat in the pro-Syrian regime ignored those aspects.
Let us be clear on what is happening in Syria:
1) We really don’t know what is happening in Syria.
2) There is an unprecedented disinformation campaign going on, and from all sides.
3) When the US refrains from resorting to a military option, it spends millions on psychological warfare. We see evidence of that in Syria.
4) Every week for a year, we are told that the regime is about to fall, and that the US is preparing for the post-Bashar era.
5) The Syrian National Council and Free Syrian Army have lost any little say over their own actions and rhetoric. They are now mere tools for regional and international intelligence services.
6) The secrecy of the Syrian regime will only increase over time.
7) We don’t really know who calls the shots in Syria. The attempt to extrapolate from Hafez’s era to Bashar’s is fallacious.
8) The regime won’t collapse overnight and won’t collapse in one strike.
9) If the regime — as the New York Times and other Western papers maintain daily — has lost all domestic support and that it now relies exclusively on Alawi support, then it won’t be standing.
10) Western media are now mere vehicles of propaganda of Western governments, just as the Syrian regime media are propaganda outlets for the regime.
11) Even if the armed revolt expands and intensifies, and even if Western public and covert support increases, the fight for Syria will drag on and will inevitably spill over to Lebanon.
12) The season of Arab uprisings have entered a different phase — the US has managed to contain their dangerous impact and to restrict the freedom campaign of the Arab people.
13) The season of Arab uprisings has not ended. It will go through different phases.
14) The outcome of the conflict in Syria will be far from respecting the wishes of the Syrian people, just as the GCC-US management of the Yemen crisis preserved an ugly regime.
15) The US-Israel will do their best to keep the Syrian regime intact after toppling Bashar — if they succeed in toppling him that is.