Did Bashar al-Assad Betray Qaddafi?

The polemicists of the fringe left and the far right who depict the Baathist regime in Syria as a beleagured victim of Western plotting may have to retool their noise machines. It turns out that the authoritarian government of Bashar joined with France to destroy Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

An intelligence official for the Libyan rebels during the uprising last year against Muammar Qaddafi has alleged to the Telegraph that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad turned over to French intelligence Qaddafi’s satellite telephone number. They were able to use it to pinpoint his location in Sirte, and to arrange for his capture.

Then French president Nicolas Sarkozy had been an early hawk on Syria, proposing humanitarian zones and direct intervention there. Al-Assad extracted a promise from the French government, it is alleged, to back off its interventionist plans in Syria, in return for Qaddafi’s phone number. Sarkozy had entered into the NATO mission in Libya in part as a quest to raise his polling numbers in France, and so he needed a quick victory. Some have also alleged that he wanted to cover up Qaddafi’s illegal contributions to Sarkozy’s political campaign. (Allegations of illegal campaign contributions from African dictators dogged Sarkozy; I don’t know if they have anything to them).

If it is true, the story reflects badly on both Bashar and Sarkozy.

It should be noted that the idea you hear from the fringe left that the Baath in Syria are somehow ‘progressive’ is naive in the extreme. Syria invaded Lebanon in 1976 to esnure that a coalition of Palestinians, Sunnis and Druze did not defeat the Maronite Christians. It then applied ‘divide and rule’ to Lebanon for 20 years.

Posted in Libya,Syria | 14 Responses | Print |

14 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    Pepe Escobar, who you have quoted on occasion, proposes a plausible root cause for the Syria unrest.

    This combined with failed economic reform and drought looks reasonable to me.

    link to atimes.com

    Even before Prashad concludes his investigation, it’s clear what Qatar is aiming at; to kill the US$10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline, a deal that was clinched even as the Syria uprising was already underway. [2]

    Here we see Qatar in direct competition with both Iran (as a producer) and Syria (as a destination), and to a lesser extent, Iraq (as a transit country). It’s useful to remember that Tehran and Baghdad are adamantly against regime change in Damascus.

    The gas will come from the same geographical/geological base – South Pars, the largest gas field in the world, shared by Iran and Qatar. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline – if it’s ever built – would solidify a predominantly Shi’ite axis through an economic, steel umbilical cord.

    Now how do we stop this stae, which is even smaller than Israel, though not nuclear armed yet, starting WWIII?

  2. Dear Mr. Cole,

    this is very interesting story. It clearly reflects poorly on Mr. Sarkozy and the French government. However, it is difficult to see why it would reflect poorly on Bashar Assad at all. First, if anything giving up information leading to Gaddafi’s capture at that point helped to end the civil war that Gaddafi had clearly already lost. It does not mean that Bashar Assad bears responsibility for the launching or the outcomes of the civil war, which you helped cheerlead. Second, he gave the information to the French and not the Lybian Revolutionaries. If this resulted in the lynching of Gaddafi, this falls much more heavily on the French, who actually had influence with the Lybian revolutionaries. Third, it reinforces again that the promises of Western governments cannot be trusted. The fact that open intervention in Syria has not happenend, yet, is due to reluctance on the part of the Russians and Chinese, certainly not the French. Finally, if it is now conventional wisdom that Sarkozy only bombed Lybia for electoral reasons, why is this not heavily criticized and examined as a war crime.

    Best regards,


    • You’re forgetting Al-Assad’s Iranian and Lebanese allies. From their eyes, this revelation certainly does reflect badly on him.

      • You are forgetting Musa Sadr. His Iranian and Lebanese allies had no sympathy for Gaddafi. This said the whole story seems far from credible

  3. Can’t the Baathist regime in Syria be a beleagured victim of Western plotting and have sold Gadaffi down the river as well?
    I haven’t come across any lefties who are in love with the Ba’aths of Syria, however many are against illegal agression.

  4. What’s even more interesting is- why did he feel compelled to have this information come out? What message does this send to Syrian rebels?

    What international laws does this violate?

  5. Hmm. I doubt the majority of people — including those who are reasonably well informed about these matters — will think this reflects badly on Assad or proves anything about the nature of his regime. At that point, capturing Qadaffi (or however you want to spell it – I’ve counted 16 different spellings that have appeared in English media) was necessary to hasten the end of a brutal conflict and give the Libyan people at least a chance at a decent society. Note that the denouement, in which Qadaffi was murdered, was not the intention or predicted outcome.

    I’m not sure why you think this was evil. There was an international warrant for his arrest, and Assad was therefore assisting the international community in carrying out a legitimate arrest. Or is there some point I’m missing?

    • Assad had supported Qaddafi at the Arab League and his government went hoarse denouncing intervention, and he turns around and gives the French the satellite phone number? Surprising? Perhaps not. Hypocritical? Hmm. Yes.

  6. “Naive in the extreme” is putting it very mildly deliberately engaging in self-deception is more like it. The Syrian Ba’ath are a pack of thugs in the same way that the Iraki Ba’ath were a pack of thugs. The problem is that what comes after them is likely to be worse.


  7. It is rather far-fetched to suggest that NATO signals intelligence needed Syrian help to track a mere Iridium satellite phone.

    Also, the source lacks credibility.

    Responsibility for the disgraceful handling of a captured former head of state in Libya lies with the rebels and their foreign sponsors.

    Finally, denunciation of foreign involvement in any given country’s civil war has little to do with left/right politics. Is respect for sovreignty and autonomy a left/right issue?

    • The doctrine that gross violation of human rights provides a legitimate exception to the usual doctrine of state sovereignty, and the doctrine that the United Nations can rightfully authorize force against a state for such violations, are two of the greatest achievements of international affairs progressives (think Eleanor Roosevelt) in the past century.

  8. Are you saying that there isn’t a concerted effort by the US/Saudis/Israel/Turkey/UAE to overthrow the Syrian government through Saudi money, foreign jihadists and CIA logistical (and perhaps material) help, and that this effort isn’t an opportunist (proxy) extension of the covert war on Iran? Or that only the “fringe left” believes that? Like As’ad AbuKhalil?

    • There was a genuine popular uprising in much of the country for over a year before other powers were forced to decide how to react. The regime’s rigidity and murderousness prevented a Tunisian outcome. Blaming Qatar or the US puts the cart before the horse.

      Apologists for Baath mass murder are despicable.

  9. The sheer number and diversity of the people Moammar Khadaffy managed to piss of is truly striking.

    The United States, the House of Saud, al Qaeda, Baathist Syria, France, the Egyptian military, the Libyan people, the French, the Arab Spring government in Tunisia…not even the Russians or Chinese would lift a finger to save him.

    Truly, Moammar Khadaffy was a uniter, not a divider.

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