Even before the UN report drawn up by Detlev Mehlis on the Hariri assassination landed with sickening effect in Damascus, Syria was finding it hard to pull itself together from the shock of the sudden death of interior minister Ghazi Kenaan. The official claim of his suicide was greeted with cynical disbelief.
Ahead of the UN report, one of the heads of the Syrian opposition, Farid Gadry, the pro-US head of the Syrian Reform party who lives in exile, circulated this message to his friends. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s editors publish it verbatim, without comment or determining its source, because its contents appear to us highly relevant to developments that may arise from the Hariri case.
It came as a shock to all of us. Ghazi Kanaan, the man who used to strike fear in the hearts of some of the sturdiest of Lebanese politicians, is dead of all things not from a fight to save the regime or from a noble stand-off to save himself but from a $10 bullet planted in his mouth – whether by design or by accident. With Ghazi Kanaan gone, the Assad regime finds itself weaker regardless of the circumstances under which his death may have happened.
But in our opinion, we believe Kanaan was killed by Assef Shawkat and here is why.
Kanaan was the most senior Alawite in the Assad administration. His death, like the Khaznawi, must be made to look innocent or else many Alawite tribal families would have considered his death to be an affront to their existence by the Assad clan.
Kanaan supported and brought Baschar to power when Baschar needed strong characters to support his placid 34-year mind to rule a country whose strategic position is more towering than most Syrian politicians are able to understand or absorb. But Baschar never understood it. His ascendancy to power, he still believes, is as a result of his father’s legacy and to a certain extent his own (Baschar spends more time in front of a mirror than an average, self-confident man).
Lately, Kanaan realized the mistake he made and started the process of fixing that mistake.
Kanaan felt that to save Syria, two things must happen: 1) Assef Shawkat must be dealt with swiftly and, 2) Baschar must leave Syria quietly with his stolen billions that Rami Makhlouf manages for him, Bouchra, and Maher. (Ed. Bouchra and Maher are Bashar Assad’s sister and brother. Bouchra is married to Assef Shawkat.)
Assef Shawkat is not the smartest men in Syria. In fact, he was trained as a hitman. The logic of conducting foreign policy, crisis management, and intuitive survival lie, in his mind, in one solution that fits all and that is the killing of anyone who stands in his way. So Syria’s domestic and foreign policy today are run through the logic of a Mafia man named Assef Shawkat with the support of his wife Bouchra and Baschar because of his weakness.
In order to deal with Assef, Kanaan wanted a scenario. So when the Hariri plan was effectively considered and carried-out by, we suspect, Assef Shawkat, Kanaan let it be.
Next, he needed to get the Assad clan to walk off in the sunset and that is what got him killed. We believe Kanaan contacted the US administration to lead a white revolution from within Syria. The Americans liked the idea and through a contact in Jordan helped Kanaan logistically.
How did Assad find out is still a mystery. But once he did, it was a question of time. The Kanaan family was surprised to notice recently that Assef was visiting Kanaan everyday, especially publicly. This is one way a hitman lifts all suspicion by showing public friendship of his target.
Now with Kanaan gone, Baschar finds himself more isolated than ever. The real enemies of Syria are but one family with six members: Baschar, Bouchra, Maher, Assef, Anissa, and Mohammed. The rest are there to follow orders and if anyone veers from support of that family, they are killed. Exactly what happened to Ghazi Kanaan.
What this means for Syrians is that the United States may act in desperation in the short term but it won’t last. Stronger figures in the US foreign policy establishment will steer away from a deal with Baschar. It will also mean that Syrians may become spectators of an internal struggle amongst the different clans that will weaken further Baschar in anticipation of a soft landing leading Syria into a peaceful democratic transition.
Finally, it will also mean that no matter the outcome and how slow the change is, no one family, no one man, and no one political organization will ever, ever control Syria again. That, Syrians will make sure of next time around.