Exclusive: Major row in Assad regime delays Sunday publication of Mughniyeh probe findings
debkafile‘s Middle East and intelligence sources report that President Bashar Assad has fallen out with his brother-in-law Gen. Asif Shawqat, sacked him as military intelligence chief and appointed Gen. Aly Younes in his place.
Shawqat has not been seen in the capital for three weeks. Several intelligence officers were reported arrested in Damascus Monday, April 17.
The apparent downfall of Syria’s strongman is seen as symptomatic of a fierce rift in the top level of Syrian government. Our Washington sources report that Assad decided at the last minute to hold back the report promised for Sunday, April 7, on the killing of Hizballah leader Imad Mughniyeh last February, until after April 17, when the US House Intelligence Committee hears the details of Israel’s reported Sept 6, 2007 strike on a nuclear installation Syria was building with North Korean assistance. He will the decide how to play it.
The Bush administration and Jerusalem have agreed on the materials to be revealed there.
Our Washington sources report that the US and Israel are pumping out a welter of reports in advance of potential revelations about Syria’s covert nuclear activities, as well as playing up the rising war tensions with Israel, in a fresh bid to unnerve Assad into cooling his ties with Iran.
These sources report that the US and Israel turned up the heat this week by a claim leaked to Israeli media that Jerusalem had warned Damascus that Israel would hold Syria accountable and make it pay for any Hizballah attack on the Jewish state or against a Jewish or Israeli overseas target.
Sources in Damascus deny receiving any such warning.
Some Middle East sources report that Washington and Jerusalem are trying to turn to their advantage the falling-out between Assad and Shawqat.
The Syrian ruler believes that Israel’s defense exercise against missile attack is also part of that effort. He assured his confidants that it will not work; he will never break off his close alliance with Iran – even if it costs him a military showdown with Israel.
As to the Mughniyeh report, according to intelligence sources, the Syrian findings point the finger for the Hizballah army chief’s death in a secure section of Damascus at Israel, in conjunction with “Arab intelligence services” – specifically the Saudi service.
The last breach with Shawqat occurred when Assad took out of his hands the final wording of the Mughniyeh report and transferred it to Gen. Younes. Some Gulf intelligence sources familiar with Damascus’ inside affairs report that Assad ordered the new intelligence chief to saddle Gen. Shawqat with the guilt of failing to avert the Hizballah leader’s death.
Another bone of contention between the two brothers-in-law was Shawqat’s insistence for some months that if a limited military engagement between Syria and Israel is to be, then better now, when Damascus, Hizballah and Hamas can call the shots, rather than the summer months when the US and Israel will exercise greater control of events.
As for the sacked intelligence chief’s whereabouts, some Gulf sources familiar with the Syrian scene claim he has moved to a military intelligence base in northern Syria to be among loyalist officers and men. His wife, Bashara, Assad’s sister, took herself and her children off to Paris in early March to get away from the quarrels between her husband and brother.