The Syrian President Has Nowhere Else to Go

Syrian president Bashar Assad put his foot in his mouth on the second day of his state visit to Ankara.

Wednesday, Oct. 17, during a joint press conference at noon with Turkish president Abdullah Gul, he said of a Turkish operation in northern Iraq: “We accept this as Turkey’s legitimate right. As Syria, we are supporting all decisions by Turkey and standing behind them.”

By evening, his advisers were scrambling to send a corrective message to Washington that the Syrian president had not meant to be the only Arab ruler to back a general Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, but only very limited operations. Assad was afraid that he had spoiled his chances with the Bush administration’s plan for low-level dialogue with Syria. (See the last week’s DEBKA-Net-Weekly 321).

He need not have worried.

The Americans have only one object, to prevent Syria interfering in Lebanon’s presidential election. His views on Turkey do not concern them.

The Syrian president invited himself to Ankara for a visit which the Turkish government found extremely inconvenient. However, Assad insisted because not a single Arab or Middle East ruler is prepared to host him.

Saudi Arabia is conspicuously hostile. In the first week of October, the Saudis received as an honored guest Bashar’s sworn enemy, his uncle Rifat Assad, followed by two more leading members of the Syrian opposition, former vice president Halim Khaddam and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadr Al Deen al Baynoni. They were closeted with Saudi intelligence chiefs responsible for operations in Lebanon for long meetings.

Livid with anger, the Syrian ruler thereupon took off for Ankara to demonstrate that he still has friends.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources believe that he may decide that the only way he can extricate himself from his predicament is to strike a resounding blow against Lebanon.

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