Gazi Kanaan killed himself in his Damascus office today. He was Minister of the Interior in Bashar Assad’s government there. In Syria, as in most countries, the Minister of the Interior is the Police Minister. He is not concerned with national parks.
This man was Syrian proconsul in Lebanon for a decade. He was effectively "governor" of an occupied and co-opted Lebanon which he ran through a combination of intimidation and "pay-offs." He was the ultimate authority there until he was "promoted" to the Interior Ministry in Damascus. When he was promoted in the Syrian police to "liwa’" (Major General) a few years ago the Lebanese nomenklatura (Muslim and Christian alike) lined up in their hundreds outside his office door to kow-tow and "gift" him with the odd Mercedes, jewelry, etc. His power was manifest throughout the land. On various occasions he would simply inform the Lebanese parliament of desired legislation, and they would pass it. Street demonstrations in Beirut were child’s play for him. He could arrange them for the next day in however many thousands were desired (complete with photograph laden placards).
Now he is gone and little lamented. Why is he gone? Smart money has always been wagered that Rafik Hariri’s assassination was the result of a cabal among Lebanese and Syrian security officials who feared Hariri’s return to power by election, this time as a "reform" candidate with the full backing of the Bush Administration and, of course, of Chirac’s France. In previous iterations of Hariri as PM, Rafik was not a "reform" figure. The circumstances in which downtown Beirut was re-built under Hariri’s supervision by the company "Solidere" would not bear close inspection. A lot of money was made by Rafik and his associates in this and other business enterprises.
Kanaan made a "farewell" call to a Lebanese Radio station before he died today. In that interview he said that if it was true that Rafik Hariri had been paying him off when both had ruled in Lebanon, then why would he have participated in killing him. This was inspired by the recent interview in which the UN investigator, Mehlis, had confronted him with documented evidence of the relationship. At the same time he said that he, Kanaan, had not been "responsible" for the bad things that had happened in Beirut over the years. I suppose that was a reference to the ultimate culpability of the late Hafez al-Assad. Was Kanaan’s death a case of "assisted suicide?" Who can tell? There is a tradition of "a little help from your friends" in Syria. What is the net result of this man’s death?
The White House has been pursuing "regime change on the cheap" in Syria for the last couple of years while at the same time Bashar Assad’s government has been pursuing the Bush Administration with the goal of some sort of accomodation. The Syrians have been begging for a deal for several years. They have pursued this goal through every channel they could find or invent. There has been "zero" receptivity to this effort. ZERO! Recently, the NSC has made a "data call" throughout the foreign policy parts of the US government to learn if anyone knows of more plausible candidates to be replacements for Bashar Assad than the ones they have looked at so far. Result? Unknown.
There has been a lot of talk in the US Government lately of the possibility of seeking a "Libyan" solution to the "problem" of Syria. By this it is meant that Assad’s submission to the imperatives of the "Greater Middle East Initiative" (GMEI) might be accepted (as was that of Qaddhafi) as a substitute for regime change. Well, this death presents the opportunity to find this solution.
Kanaan was a bad man. He was a prime suspect for having been inplicated in the Hariri killing "at the top." The United States does not need another direct involvement in another Arab country. Bashar Assad wants accomodation. There are no clear successor figures for Bashar Assad. The jihadi zealots wait in the wings.
What part of this is unclear?
In the CNN interview cited below Bashar doesn’t sound submissive enough. He will have to "do better."
Couldn’t agree more with your take on this. Should be interesting to see what is in the UN report on Hariri’s assassination.
Joshua Landis has some additional thoughts at
He thinks it is possible that Kanaan may have been the US “choosen” possible successor to Assad and his “elimination” leaves the US with no good choice but to arrange with Assad.
Like so many ME stories a lot of fog is around this one.
But your take on the US’s choices is of course right.
Nah. Too dirty. Too obvious. Knew all about Rafik. This administration believes its own propaganda. They couldn’t deal with this guy. They are too naive to do that. pl
But PL, wasn’t Kana’an in cahoots with Hariri? Isn’t it more likely that he dropped a dime on Ghazali, his arch-rival, and the latter had him offed?
WHO selected Suicide Rates for men by country, per 100,000
(full table here — http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suiciderates/en/)
I’m just saying, is all…
Syrian Arab Republic 0.2
He killed himself, others killed him, the Easter bunny killed him, little green men from UFOs killed him…
Who cares? It is completely irrelevant and unimportant to the development of history.
He was a bad man, and his death should be viewed as an opportunity. pl
“Kanaan made a “farewell” call to a Lebanese Radio station before he died today. In that interview he said that it was true that Rafik Hariri had been paying him off when both had ruled in Lebanon…”
Wait. All the media reports I’ve seen say that in the radio interview he denied that he told the UN there were payoffs in Lebanon. I’m confused.
With this bad Syrian man gone for good now, does this mean that America no longer has a contact in the Syrian government who will accept our cases of “extraordinary rendition” (i.e., disappeared prisoners) for torturing? Or do we just have bad men in Egypt left to do that sort of dirty work for us?
Inquiring students of international law — not to mention the government of Canada — would like to know.
There is nothing innocent about any of the actors in the Middle East. The government of Syria would like nothing better than to resume its intelligence cooperation with the US. They have offered repeatedly (see the amanpour CNN interview with Bashar Assad). The offer has been refused because the USG has a satisfactory enemy in Syria. pl
He could say whatever he liked. NTV in Beirut had the “goods” on him. His relationship of corruption with Rafik Hariri was and is a matter of public knowledge in Beirut. Look at this story in the Beirut Daily Star and the picture of him with Hariri.
When Mehlis went to interview Kanaan weeks ago he brought with him a box of records, check stubs, and copies of checks that clearly implicated Kanaan, and others in long standing government corruption in Lebanon.
In the course of his valedictory interview yesterday he said to the interviewer that if he and others were benefiting from Hariri, then why would they have killed him?
I thought Assad carried himself quite well on that CNN interview (at least conducted in English! how many US leaders could do the same in arabic on Al Jazeera?).
His comment regarding the involvement of SY (rogue or otherwise) government officials in Harriri assasination (“that would be treasonous”) – a clear signal from the top that this hit was not a sanctioned one. His comment on the punishment that would result if the UN found a gov’t involvement was strong – (“severe”). The whole thing makes me think this was very much assisted. Like the warden in Shawshank, Kanaan knew the jig was up.
Assad’s move here is bold. He listens to and learns from Mubarek and other elder ME statesmen. He is young, but not a fool. And as you illustrate, he has the US in a corner with no real successor (except for some type of Islamist group – how well is that working in Iraq?).
In all – a nice move and recovery by government of SY.
Sound thinking but unfortunately what is desired by the USG is 120% not 90%. pl
SP–I saw that interview differently. It looked to me like the plan was to blame everything on Kana’an and claim ignorance.
Good. as long as we get on with some measure of sanity. pl
You may be right. In either case, Assad blunts any US govt attempt to undermine his legitimacy via the UN investigation.
Someday, the US might realize that the harder they lean on some of these guys (Assad, Mubarek, etc), the bigger domestic creditbility they grant to these leaders.