Earlier today, Syria’s powerful and well-connected Interior Minister, Brig.Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, was found dead in his office, an apparent suicide. Prior to taking up his present job Kanaan had for 20 years been Syria’s pro-consul in Lebanon. He was one of seven Syrian officials who were questioned recently by the UN-appointed Mehlis Commission, which has been investigating the circumstances of the killing of Lebanon’s Rafiq Hariri last February.
Mehlis is scheduled to submit his report to the Security Council on October 25.
One first very important question is: did Kanaan in fact commit suicide?
It isvery hard to think of someone who has carried out the repressive tasks Kanaan has carried out inside both Lebanon and Syria throughout his life being suddenly struck by an attack of remorse such as might have propelled a suicide. There are of course, “suicides” and “suicides.” A person can be surrounded by armed opponents, handed a gun, and given the option of “ending it quickly.” (An option far kinder than that given by Kanaan to many of his victims.)
Is this a suicide?
If we assume that the decision that Kanaan’s life be taken was not one made only by himself, we need to ask why other powerful figures inside Damascus might want him dead. So far there seem two conjectures worth entertaining:
- 1. President Asad wanted Kanaan to be the fall-guy who would carry the rap as the “highest” Syrian official responsible for Hariri’s murder… He may well also have wanted Kanaan to be effectively silenced and put in a place where he could no longer be interrogated by Detlev Mehlis’s investigators. Such a place was found.
2. (This one was suggested on Josh Landis’s excellent blog from Syria) “Was Ghazi Kanaan setting himself up to be Bashar’s alternative? Could he have been the Alawite “Musharrif” that some American’s and Volker Perthes suggested would take power from the House of Asad and bring Syria back into America’s and the West’s good graces.” Under this scenario, Asad would have found out about the plot and ordered the staged suicide fairly rapidly.
(Perthes, I should note, is a very well-informed expert on Syria, and like Mehlis a German national. He is someone whose judgment I would generally be inclined to trust. On the other hand, I– like Josh Landis– found Perthes’s analysis of Bashar’s present political weakness in that IHT article to be a little overdrawn…)
Josh also refers to this story on the Lebanese newswire Naharnet which tells us that,
- Hours before he died, Kanaan contacted the Beirut Voice of Lebanon radio station and gave it a statement, concluding with the words: “I believe this is the last statement that I could make.” He asked seasoned interviewer ‘Wardeh’ to pass his comments to other broadcast media.
From that story, it ‘appeared’ that Kanaan feared principally that he was about to be set up as the fall-guy for the Mehlis Commission. However, contacting the Voice of Lebanon to give it that statement at that time was an incredibly risky thing to do. What could Kanaan have hoped it would achieve– apart from, perhaps, activate some pre-agreed plan for his exfiltration at a time of dire distress? And if there was perhaps some such plan in which he had at least some degree of faith in, then Landis’s speculation about the possibility that Kanaan was plotting with the Americans might indeed be not far from the mark.
All of Damascus must be on tenterhooks right now. I wonder if there has been a widespread campaign of arrests there? If Kanaan was indeed setting himself up (with help from the Americans and possibly others) to topple the president, then that is what we should expect to see.
If there has not been such a campaign, then the staged suicide of Gen. Kanaan is much more likely to have been an intra-regime affair… Obviously, the killing of a man as politically powerful as Kanaan would leave a good proportion of his many political allies in the country angry (and scared), but that is a different matter.
We should get more clues as to the real story here within the coming days. But of course, given that the regime passes in and out of the cross-hairs of the ardent “regime-changers” in washington, almost anything might happen in Syria over the days ahead.
(I’ll just note quickly here that when I took part in that gathering about Syrian political futures in DC six weeks ago, one of the conclusions in which most of the expert participants concurred was that any political force that might replace President Bashar al-Asad at the present time would almost certainly be considerably more hostile to US policies than Asad has been…)
God save Syria.