Ronen Bergman

Assad losing control

Syria, once considered one of region’s most stable states, increasingly vulnerable

A car bomb blast in south Beirut on December 22, 1994 killed Fouad Mugniyah, Imad Mugniyah’s brother. Three other people were killed in the explosion. At least 15 people sustained serious wounds.


Imad Mugniyah, who thought that the fact someone bothered to kill his brother was suspicious, did not show up at the funeral. In Lebanon, the killing was attributed to Israel, which according to foreign sources hoped to kill Imad Mugniyah during the funeral.


On Saturday, following reports about the huge blast that shook Damascus, and while trying to guess who was behind it, someone mentioned the abovementioned incident. He brought it up in response to the argument that Israel would not be detonating car bombs – or in other words, a very non- surgical strike – in order to achieve operational aims at the heart of enemy territory.


One thing is certain: There is no dull moment for our northern neighbor. It turns out that the state once considered one of the most stable in the Middle East – where leaders always made sure to respond aggressively to any display of opposition, and where streets are replete with secret agents – is particularly vulnerable. And so, President Bashar Assad is losing more and more points in Arab and international public opinion and is being portrayed as someone unable to control developments on his own turf.


So who could have been behind the explosion? On the face of it, this appears to be some kind of mishap or work accident, as according to the reports at least it doesn’t seem like the blast was not aimed at a specific target. If we are indeed dealing with an accident, it might be a Syrian shipment (to Hizbullah, for example) that was handled negligently. This is a problematic assumption as there is no information about arms or ammunition depots in that area.


Syrian opposition sources claim this was a work accident by Syrian security authorities. They argue that the branch specializing in building car bombs packed the vehicle with explosives, but the car blew up because of a technical mishap en route to its destination.


Is al-Qaeda involved?

Various Arab sources immediately blamed Israel’s Mossad. On the face of it, this appears to be no more than a conditioned reflex. At the same time, the area where the explosion took place is a hub of Iranian activity: It is home to offices of Iranian agencies and organizations, including intelligence elements from Tehran.


Iran’s intelligence in Damascus is of immense importance, as it is responsible for part of the coordination with Hizbullah. We can assume that had Israeli intelligence paid attention to what goes on in Damascus, this area would merit special attention.


Another possibility is that this was an act perpetrated by Lebanese elements that object to the ongoing Syrian involvement in their country, despite the seeming withdrawal. A conspiracy theory presented on a global Jihad forum Saturday suggested that the Syrian government carried out the bombing in order to justify a Syrian operation in Lebanon against Syria’s rivals.


Yet another possibility is that we are dealing with a Syrian opposition group that sought to embarrass the regime or kill someone specific.


Who else may be behind the blast? The news of the latest blow to Assad’s prestige prompted great joy on websites affiliated with al-Qaeda that are very hostile to the regime in Damascus. Al-Qaeda has already proven its operational capabilities in the Syrian capital when it attempted to target the American embassy there in 2006.


פרסום ראשון: 09.28.08, 11:17
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