Photo: AFP
Bashar Assad
Photo: AFP

Beware the Syrians

Domestic Syrian killings remind us not to expect genuine normalization with Damascus

There is a veteran journalist in Syria called Ibrahim Hamidi. Every time he publishes a story in his newspaper, al-Hayat, people in Israel are all over it. On the one hand, Hamidi, who was never wrong or tripped up by his sources in Damascus, knows where the red lines vis-à-vis a brutal regime; on the other hand, he adopted a sophisticated writing style that presents a fascinating snapshot of what goes on behind the closed doors of the dictatorial regime.


Yet since Saturday morning, for four days now, Hamidi has been silent. The great fear campaign around the assassination of General Muhammad Suleiman, President Assad’s man of big secrets, got to Hamidi as well. This journalist, who in the past faced interrogations and disappeared in prison for long days because of stories that were not appreciated by the government, does not dare expose what he knows about this hot affair.


The same is true for the seemingly belligerent al-Jazeera correspondents and the propaganda arms of the Syrian presidential palace in Beirut. The editors in chief of al-Safir and al-Akhbar, just like the Lebanese president and ministers, know what happened and make sure to shut their mouths.


This time, as opposed to what happened after the assassination of Imad Mugniyah in Damascus six months ago, Israeli officials did not hide a proud smile. While Mugniyah was killed in a professionally impressive operation, Suleiman was killed using the infamous Syrian method: Several bullets (and a silencer) to his head.


Severe travel advisory

According to the latest information, the assassins showed up at Suleiman’s door and shot him. Nobody heard a thing, the victim died immediately, and nobody saw anything. Now, Bashar Assad is resting in a Turkish resort town after his visit to Tehran, which was held in the shadow of the assassination.


Did he know about it? We can assume that he was not overly surprised. Yet if this assassination was carried out behind his back, this is yet another indication of the power struggle in the Syrian government.


Mugniyah, according to some reports, gambled his life away after spending millions of dollars (donated by the Ayatollahs in Tehran) among top Alawite figures, en route to finding a successor for Bashar. Suleiman also showed his loyalty to one side of the family, thereby prompting the other side to find an opportunity to get rid of him.


Yet there is a lesson for Israel here too: Let’s assume that Prime Minister Olmert is able to complete his term in office with a “historic” peace treaty with Syria. Let’s assume that the talks move forward and Syria obligates itself to peace with normalization. The ceremony will be amazing – the peace itself not quite.


Let’s also assume that the pressure prompts the Syrians to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, that our diplomats sit in Damascus, and that our business leaders rush to identify opportunities in Syria (there are plenty of them.) This will be a peace deal that comes with a severe travel advisory: Who will guarantee the security of Israelis? Who would be able to sleep peacefully at a Damascus hotel without ending up with a bullet in the head?


Beware the glowing embers in Damascus, one of my friends in Beirut warns us, after losing his two best friends to Syrian intelligence bullets.


פרסום ראשון: 08.06.08, 17:31
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