May 13, 2007

Assad Getting Desperate, Belligerent

by Michael J. Totten

From Lebanon's Naharnet:
Syrian President Bashar Assad has threatened to set the region on fire, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, over differences with the United Nations regarding Lebanon's stability.

The independent daily newspaper an-Nahar quoted well informed diplomatic circles as saying Assad made the threat last Wednesday in a telephone discussion with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The sources, according to the paper spoke of a "heated dialogue" between Assad and Ban, during which the Syrian President "threatened to set the region on fire, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean."

The focus of the telephone discussion was creation of the international tribunal that will try suspects in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes, the report explained.
First Assad threatened to burn Lebanon. Now he's threatening to burn the whole Middle East.

Assad truly believes a conviction against his regime in a United Nations tribunal will be the first step toward a UN-approved American-led regime-change in Syria. He has no idea that the American appetite for such an adventure is somewhere near zero, but he really is scared to death of it.

He would rather (at least threaten) to turn the region into a fireball than have his regime be accountable for murders in Lebanon under international law. Those who wish to negotiate with this man should take note.

UPDATE: See also Abu Kais, who has more time to think and write about this right now than I do.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 13, 2007 10:03 PM
Comments

Has he EVER heard 'methinks he doth protest too much"? He's almost publically begging to be punished... must be having nightmares from guilt, or maybe it's an SM thing. But I thought the Russians had rigged the inquiry so Assad couldn't be directly tried or something along those lines.

Well, anyway, awfully glad I got to visit the Golan again this Spring to see the wildflowers before this asshole tries to french-fry it. If he does attack, I really hope Israel reduces Damascus to a large pothole. Forget PR, Israel sucks at it anyhow -- go for a big old Middle Eastern 'yep, we're as brutal as you always said we were' one-size-fits-all deterrent.

Posted by: Pam at May 14, 2007 12:37 AM

"He has no idea that the American appetite for such an adventure is somewhere near zero, but he really is scared to death of it."

And yet his language is such that it could only increase the 'hunger' of said adventure. What is it with dirtbags and self fullfilling prophecies?

Posted by: anuts at May 14, 2007 02:29 AM

Michael,

I think this is the key thing to note here, not what Assad allegedly said:

"The independent daily newspaper an-Nahar quoted well informed diplomatic circles..."

Save your analysis for something worthwhile. Newspapers in the Arab world are hardly reliable source of information, and nothing demonstrates this more than this article.

Does anyone honestly think Assad would threaten to destroy the Middle East in a phone call to the Secretary General of the UN?

Posted by: Edgar at May 14, 2007 03:41 AM

Does anyone honestly think Assad would threaten to destroy the Middle East in a phone call to the Secretary General of the UN?

I will take the bait: I wouldn't put it past him.

Considering his sponsorship of terror in Lebanon and Iraq, saying something like this is a minor thing.

Posted by: Keith at May 14, 2007 06:29 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 05/14/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at May 14, 2007 07:57 AM

I'm extremely curious as to how Pelosi's trip may have hampered bargaining power w/ Assad. Regardless of politics, Pelosi could have continued to play on Assad's supposed fear in pushing for excising themselves from Lebanese politics (maybe not entirely, but it may have made him sweat a little more). I understand the complexity of the situation is far more than I can hope to understand, but when do you finally say "enough is enough" and quit playing games?

Posted by: mantis at May 14, 2007 08:54 AM

Edgar: Does anyone honestly think Assad would threaten to destroy the Middle East in a phone call to the Secretary General of the UN?

After what that regime has been up to in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and (of course) Syria for more than three decades, why wouldn't he? He publicly hailed the "resistance" in Iraq last week and no one said boo. He has been publicly supporting Palestinians terrorists all along, yet even half the Israeli government thinks he wants to talk peace.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 14, 2007 10:15 AM

mantis: "quit playing games". NEVER. How are the war merchants going to make their 30 pieces of silver?..................

Posted by: diana at May 14, 2007 11:37 AM

Edgar:
Does anyone honestly think Assad would threaten to destroy the Middle East in a phone call to the Secretary General of the UN?

If he's trying to find out what Ban Ki-moon is made of, it might be a low cost way to find out. FWIW I'd also like to know what Ban Ki-moon is made of.

Posted by: adam D. at May 14, 2007 11:52 AM

Yeah, I think he'd threaten that. It's not like he's been exactly subtle when it comes to anything else.

Posted by: J-P at May 14, 2007 08:58 PM

If the good guys have a majority in the Lebanese legislature, how can a internal Lebanese triunal be blocked by the Lebanese legislature?

Won't going to the U.N. to get a tribunal just make the moderates look like western tools (see: Maliki)?

Posted by: alphie at May 14, 2007 09:43 PM

They already look like Western "tools," Alphie. They are even accused of being Zionist tools.

Oh well. There are worse things in the world than being allied with the West. They could be allied with the Iranians, for example.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 14, 2007 09:48 PM

Well,

What do the western-allied factions hope to gain by doing an end run around the legislature?

Is it just the victim's billionaire son pushing for the U.N. tribunal, or is there a long term political goal behind it?

It seems to me that, at best, the tribunal will prove Syria had a hand in Lebanese politics up until 2005.

Duh

Posted by: alphie at May 14, 2007 10:41 PM

What do the western-allied factions hope to gain by doing an end run around the legislature?

An actual international tribunal to try the killers of the former prime minister.

Is it just the victim's billionaire son pushing for the U.N. tribunal, or is there a long term political goal behind it?

Most of the country wants this, Alphie.

Chapter 7 resolutions are designed precisely for situations like this one.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 14, 2007 10:52 PM

It's like War Crimes -- what good does it do for Lebanon to investigate and try a foreign government? Talk about empty gestures. It HAS to be done by 'neutral' international parties when more than one country is involved.

Posted by: Pam at May 14, 2007 10:59 PM

Unless, of course, it turns out it was a Lebanese faction behind the plot.

Maybe even one of the "moderate" factions.

Posted by: alphie at May 14, 2007 11:00 PM

Unless, of course, it turns out it was a Lebanese faction behind the plot.

That's possible.

Maybe even one of the "moderate" factions.

That's stupid.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 14, 2007 11:03 PM

Michael,

Occam's razor isn't much help when the victim was involved in politics and had a $16 billion fortune.

And as things turned out, Syria benefited not at all from Hariri's death.

Assad is indeed a likely suspect, but lots of people benefited far more than he did from this crime.

Posted by: alphie at May 15, 2007 12:37 AM

Alphie, I think asking "who benefited" is ridiculous, especially when no one could possibly have predicted the aftermath of Hariri's assassination. No one could have known that a million people would rise up and say no more. History is not that easy to manipulate.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 15, 2007 12:40 AM

Michael,

I don't think it's ever stupid to ask the question "who benefited" when investigating a crime.

And suggesting a possible financial motive behind it doesn't rule out the Syrians...weren't they making lots of money off their occipation of Lebanon?

Hariri was very rich and had his finger in many deals.

One weird financial connection, for example, is that Harari was majority shareholder in Solidere, a real estate company that owned the Hotel Saint Georges, which was destroyed in the blast that killed him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidere

Some people seemed to be quite upset about the special privileges Solidere was given to rebuild the hotel and the surrounding area:

http://www.stgeorges-hotel.com/en/index.html

A strange bit of serendipity, or one hell of a mafia-style message?

Posted by: alphie at May 15, 2007 01:33 AM

Long live Bashar Assad!

He is truly the liberator of Lebanon! With ennemies like him, we do not need friends; he is doing an excellent job at self-destruction. Intelligence is genetic, but it seems to have skipped a generation in his case.

Too bad Westerners are not catching on; they could help him in his endeavour to self-destroy, and save us much time and suffering.

Posted by: Jeha at May 15, 2007 02:21 AM

"He has no idea that the American appetite for such an adventure is somewhere near zero, but he really is scared to death of it."

There's a reason for that.

The President can order the military to do as he sees fit for 90 days in an emergency. After that, he needs Congressional authorization.

The invasion of Iraq began on March 20 and major combat operations were declared over on May 1.

That's about 5 weeks.

I don't think Assad believes the Syrian military will do as well as the Iraqi military did, and may be concerned that Bush might take Assad out and present Congress with a fait accompli.

And yet his language is such that it could only increase the 'hunger' of said adventure. What is it with dirtbags and self fullfilling prophecies?

Dunno, but there's certainly enough 'hunger' left for Bush to order some airstrikes a la the Tripoli raid that targeted Gadaffi in Libya.

It would be interesting to see who was still interested in talking to Pelosi afterwards.

Posted by: rosignol at May 15, 2007 03:52 AM

Does anyone honestly think Assad would threaten to destroy the Middle East in a phone call to the Secretary General of the UN?

Yes.

Baby Assad isn't nearly as smart as his old man was.

Posted by: rosignol at May 15, 2007 03:56 AM

Alphie,

"What do the western-allied factions hope to gain by doing an end run around the legislature?

Is it just the victim's billionaire son pushing for the U.N. tribunal, or is there a long term political goal behind it?"

It's called justice--something rare in the Middle East. God forbid Lebanon actually go and push for it. If a responsible party can actually be tried and found guilty for killing a major Arab political figure, then this would be a first. Why ignore this one? Hariri may have been financially corrupt but he was somewhat liked, if you didn't know that.

Posted by: Umm Kais at May 15, 2007 06:49 AM

Alphie,

"What do the western-allied factions hope to gain by doing an end run around the legislature?

Is it just the victim's billionaire son pushing for the U.N. tribunal, or is there a long term political goal behind it?"

It's called justice--something rare in the Middle East. God forbid Lebanon actually go and push for it. If a responsible party can actually be tried and found guilty for killing a major Arab political figure, then this would be a first. Why ignore this one? Hariri may have been financially corrupt but he was somewhat liked, if you didn't know that.

Posted by: Umm Kais at May 15, 2007 06:49 AM
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