In Damascus, it is forbidden to photograph him and diffuse pictures that can identify him. He has tight security around him at all times and avoids attending public events. General Asef Shawkat, the head of Syrian military intelligence, has good reasons to be in hiding.
"If military confrontations break out between Syria
that would be the fulfillment of the general's plan," a Lebanese official told Yedioth Ahronoth.
Having opened the doors of the Syrian Army to Iranian experts, now he is seeking to relocate hundreds of young Syrians eligible for army service to the Golan Heights.
"In any case," he recently told President Bashar Assad,
"there is no chance of a political channel to return the Golan Heights."
That was Shawkat's pretext to sideline the old guard within the ruling Baath Party, most of whom are well-versed in peace negotiations with Israel.
Former foreign minister and Vice President Farouk al-Shara has been marginalized and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has been banned from hosting American, Arab and European officials.
Arab officials believe Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law, wants to drag Israel into a conflict in Lebanon,
and possibly Syria, next month.
Shawkat told Assad that in a future war with Israel, rocket attacks on Israeli cities would force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
to hold peace talks with Syria.
"Olmert is weak and unpopular; Barak proved that he gives in to pressure with the withdrawal from Lebanon," Shawkat reportedly told Assad.
"The general is controlling the president by sidelining his aides, and is exploiting Bashar's unstable moods," said a senior Syrian official who fled to the UAE upon learning of Shawkat's plan to throw him in jail.
The United States accuses Shawkat of harboring hundreds of insurgents who killed US soldiers in Iraq. He is barred from the United States.
Shawkat, who has been linked to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, fears that Assad might hand him over to an international tribunal to ease US pressure on his regime.