Will Assad Save Himself by Going the Way of Qaddafi?

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How to save Syrian president Bashar Assad and his regime from toppling – or rather how to save him from himself? This was the main topic exercising Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah when they put their heads together in Riyadh Monday Oct. 3. They needed to talk urgently because the UN investigator of the Hariri assassination Detlev Mehlis reported to the UN secretary general Kofi Annan and the Security Council that he has finished his business in Damascus and would not be returning. He had gathered all the evidence he needs to indict two of Assad’s close kinsmen, his brother Maher, head of the presidential guard brigade, and brother-in-law, Assef Shawqat, who is married to his sister Bushra, for involvement in the assassination plot against the Lebanese leader.
The clincher was obtained, according to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, in a Lebanese security forces swoop on the MTC Touch mobile phone company in Beirut Sept. 27. (This network is owned by Kuwait-based Mobile Telecommunications Co.) The officers copied data from eight telephone lines and took several employes away for questioning. These lines were allegedly used by Maher Assad, Assef Shawqat and two Syrian strongmen, Syrian interior minister Gen. Ghazi Kenaan and director of Syrian Special Intelligence Gen. Rusoum Ghazaleh, and other Syrian intelligence officers for contacts with their Lebanese accomplices who staged the bombing-shooting attack in Beirut last February. These accomplices set up a headquarters in the Hamara district in two apartments. Four senior Lebanese security officers are also in detention over the crime.
In September, as the noose tightened around the neck of Assad’s nearest and dearest, Saudi king Abdullah and Mubarak rushed into rescue mode.
On September 23, DEBKA-Net-Weekly revealed:
The Saudi monarch is bidding for President George W. Bush to give the Syrian president another chance. He is offering a Saudi-Egyptian guarantee for Assad to live up to any obligations he may be persuaded to undertake.
The scheme as put before Bush is embryonic. Neither side has accepted it. The Saudi ruler proposes to permit the Syrian president to tread the same path as Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi in 2003, when he scrapped his weapons of mass destruction in return for admittance to Washington’s good graces.
The Assad version, if accepted, would consist of severing the links between the Damascus political and military elite and Iraqi Baathist insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists in Syria and Iraq. Top Saudi and Egyptian intelligence counter-terror experts would help the Damascus regime get rid of the terrorist elements which have struck root in Syria.
The banking systems of Syria and Lebanon will halt the flow of moneys from Saddam Hussein’s Baathists and al Qaeda accounts to bankroll the Iraqi insurgency. Like Libya, Syria would dismantle its chemical and biological weapons and its nuclear program, as well as its WMD-capable missiles.
Damascus would help America disband the Lebanese Hizballah terrorist organization, mainly by blocking Syrian arms supplies and providing Washington with intelligence on Hizballah’s arms caches. Damascus would also shut down the command centers, offices and the training facilities serving Palestinian terror groups in Syria for decades. This would entail the jihadist Hamas and Jihad Islami and the radical Palestinian “Fronts” losing their sanctuaries.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, the Saudi ruler has assured US officials he will insist on Assad going public on these steps for the sake of his rehabilitation – although easing into them gradually.
The quid pro quo proposed by Riyadh and Cairo is a halt on US and international pressure on the Syrian regime to mend its ways, the suspension foAmerican economic sanctions and the resumption of economic assistance in the framework of a generous US-Saudi aid package to build a modern economy. Washington would have to lean hard on Ariel Sharon, or whoever succeeds him as Israeli prime minister, for peace talks culminating in the withdrawal from the Golan – on the same lines as the pull-back from Gaza and prospective evacuations of the West Bank.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington and Middle East sources report that the Bush administration has gone no further than cautiously considering the Saudi-Egyptian blueprint and discussing it. All the same, some parties, especially Saudi and Egyptian officials, are pushing hard to present Washington’s U-turn on Damascus as an accomplished fact.
(|End of DEBKA-Net-Weekly passage)
debkafile adds: One of the parties keen on getting the Saudi-Egyptian plan off the ground leaked to the media Monday, the day Mubarak flew to Riyadh, that US officials had been testing Jerusalem’s preference for Assad’s successor. Israeli officials are reported to have said that Assad could stay – as long as he was “weakened.” This leak sounds like a ploy to convey the impression that the Egyptian-Saudi rescue blueprint is in the bag and has even found acceptance in Jerusalem. This is most improbable – especially since, according to our sources in Damascus, Assad is far from seizing the Qaddafi formula for changing his spots. There are serious obstacles to be overcome first.
1. He is still haggling on terms, guarantees for his regime’s durability and which cronies can be saved from prosecution by the UN Hariri inquiry.
2. Assad has developed more than one lifeline. In addition to the Saudi-Egyptian rescue plan, he is cozying up to Moscow and to Tehran for an escape or counter-gambit against the US-French drive to bring him down and the UN investigator’s findings. Some of the ideas floated between Damascus, Tehran and Moscow, might be of concern to Washington, US forces in Iraq and Israel. debkafile will reveal these plans shortly.
3. The Syrian ruler’s fate hangs heavily on the final report Mehlis submits on the Hariri case. If he goes right to the top and assigns culpability to the president in person, not even the Saudi-Egyptian effort can save him. But if the finger of accusation stops at his close aides – such as his brother and brother-in-law, or lower echelons such as Generals Kenaan and Ghazale, Assad will hold the option of throwing them to the wolves and jumping aboard the rescue wagon.
4. He would have to be pretty nimble for this desperate ploy. The men he proposes to sacrifice might well have other plans, such as mounting a military coup to topple him to save themselves.

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