Syria and the Fundamentalist Crescent?
Some kind readers have requested that I say something about the report of UN-appointed German diplomat Detlev Mehlis concerning the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon. Mehlis is a careful and determined investigator and his findings, which fingered persons in the direct circle of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad, are explosive for the area.
Mark LeVine has commented on this issue at his blog at the History News Network.
And, of course, the go-to blog for Syria is that of Josh Landis, who is burning up the track these days with a series of newsworthy revelations about US/Syria relations. These include that NSC chief Steven Hadley asked the Italians about a possible successor to Bashar al-Asad, and that Syrian cooperation with the US on the terrorism front has been extensive and unrequited (because Bush wants to overthrow the Baath regime.)
I was surprised about Hadley and the Italians, since it is surely the French who would be consulted on this issue. They have been as aggressively anti-Syrian in Lebanon as the US.
Personally, I have been convinced by the series of bombings in Lebanon against anti-Syrian personalities (most recently May Shidyaq, the LBC journalist and interviewer), that high-level Syrian secret police officials are on a rampage. Whereas when Hariri was killed, his was only the second high-profile such assassination, and I found an al-Qaeda hit on him plausible (given his long association with the Saudi royal family), the subsequent string of such killings made that theory less and less likely. Mehlis’s report seems to me highly credible. The only question left is whether al-Asad himself is implicated, or whether the Baathist Old Guard (which checked his reformist tendencies) has been operating behind his back. That his brother is implicated, as Mark LeVine says, is pretty damning, though.
The Bush administration wishes to take advantage of the scandal to push the Baath Party out of power. The likely successor in Syria, however, is the Muslim Brotherhood. If you had an MB state in Syria, it would certainly menace the stability of Jordan and very possibly of Saudi Arabia. You’d have a possible Fundamentalist Muslim Axis, stretching from Tehran to Basra to Damascus, then down to Amman and Maan, and over to Gaza. It would have problems of cohesion because of the Sunni-Shiite divide, but on issues like Israel the two can generally agree. Al-Sharaq al-Awsat had a piece not so long ago about how the Israelis had decided that having a weak Bashar al-Asad in power in Syria might be preferable to most likely alternatives. But Bush doesn’t have the common sense of the Israeli officer corps, and is better at breaking things than gluing them together.