The suicide of Syria’s interior minister a week before a UN investigation is to release its report on the assassination of Lebanese politician-entrepreneur Rafik Hariri has the regime-change crowd salivating, and leading the pack is Michael Young, opinion editor at the Beirut Daily Star and Reason magazine’s resident Aounist. Young has been regaling his audience for months with tales of Syria’s imminent “liberation,” and is skeptical that Ghazi Kanaan died by his own hand:
“[S]yria’s interior minister is said to have committed suicide. Perhaps he did, though to me that seems unlikely; having amassed tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars during his long tenure as Syrian proconsul in Lebanon, he had the option of eventually spending part of that sum in exchange for giving information to the United Nations commission investigating Rafik Hariri’s murder. Kanaan and Hariri happened to enjoy good relations, and I would guess Kanaan opposed his assassination, though he certainly knew who was involved.”
The party line is that Kanaan was killed by the Syrians because he knew too much, and because he was the most likely successor to Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, whose regime is supposed to unravel as soon as the UN investigator delivers his report, which is widely believed to finger Syria as Hariri’s murderer. Indeed, it was a mere month ago that Young was rhapsodizing in the Daily Star about the possibility of regime change in Syria, egging on the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who had declared that the patience of the Imperium was “running out” and “all options are on the table.” You could almost hear Young salivating as he wrote:
“[Chief UN investigator] Detlev Mehlis may make such a raucous alternative unnecessary, as numerous reports have suggested that the four Lebanese intelligence chiefs are talking. That doesn’t quite square with information this week that they are suffering from various forms of psychological and physical breakdown, making imminent suicide probable (though one of the prisoners did bang his head against a wall).”
Young never lets facts stand in the way of a good rationalization for blaming tiny, powerless, sanctioned Syria for virtually all the region’s problems. The assassination of Hariri had him claiming that the Lebanese leader was killed by a bomb planted in the middle of the road, which supposedly “proved” that Syria was the culprit. When this theory was debunked, however, he dropped it without acknowledgment and began placing his bets on the Mehlis investigation and the UN’s willingness to go along with the blame-Syria explanation. He began issuing breathless bulletins from Beirut, on Reason‘s Hit and Run blog and elsewhere, as rumors circulated that Mehlis had the goods on Syria and his bombshell report would soon blast the Ba’athists to that same hell in which their Iraqi cousins now reside.
Unlike Young, I don’t pretend to know the truth about Kanaan’s death: in the murk of Levantine politics, where conspiracies and intrigue are the oxygen and nitrogen of everyday life, anyone who claims certainty almost certainly brands himself a fool. Yet it seems to me that Señor Young was closer to the truth the first time: after all, if you were a patriotic Syrian and a very able man, as Kanaan seems to have been, wouldn’t you be driven over the brink of despair as your country was targeted by the Empire? For years, as chief of Syria’s intelligence operations in Lebanon, Kanaan had successfully held off the depredations of both the Israelis and the Americans, making sure that Syria’s traditional dominance of the region was assured without provoking a confrontation with either the international community or any of the major Lebanese factions. Now, it seems, all his skillful efforts had come to naught: the Syrians had not only been chased out of Lebanon, but the U.S. was seemingly determined to extend the Iraq war into the Syrian homeland. Bush had once again singled out Damascus in a major speech reaffirming his war policy, and Kanaan, the last of the old-line Ba’athists associated with Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, signed off his interview with Voice of Lebanon given hours before his death with a clear indication of finality, averring this was “the last statement I might give.”
Perhaps he had his reasons, and good ones, for committing suicide, in the tradition of those “death before dishonor” types who prefer to fall on their swords rather than face the humiliation of defeat. And surely one of the chief humiliations Kanaan foresaw was the triumphant war cries of the Israelis, his longtime enemies, whose role in all this was exemplified by Ambassador Danny Ayalon’s recent appearance before the Nixon Center. There Ayalon warned the assembled wise men against the threat posed by Syria, all the while averring that Israel “is not in the business of regime change.”
Why should they be, when they have us to do it for them?
As the Americans take insurgents’ bullets in Iraq and threaten to extend their war of “liberation” into Syria and perhaps even Iran, at some future date the Israelis are sitting pretty: those of their enemies who are undefeated are nonetheless humbled and cowering, waiting for the next blow to fall. Ayalon and his government have only to kick back, while the Americans do their dirty work: Israeli troops aren’t in Iraq or threatening to take on Syria although, who knows, they might revisit the southern portion of a de-Syrianized Lebanon, in a bold bid to take out Hezbollah.
No, instead, they’re in Washington, D.C., where Israel’s influence on American policymakers is so strong that many are wondering whether it’s passed the bounds of propriety among them one Paul J. McNulty, chief prosecutor in the eastern district of Virginia, who has charged two top officials of Israel’s foremost lobby with conspiracy to commit espionage.
I’ve covered the prosecution of AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman at length in this space, and for background the reader can click on the links: in brief, the two are accused [.pdf] of acquiring top secret information from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and passing it on to Israeli officials, one of whom is none other than Ambassador Ayalon. In a story on the “not guilty” pleas of Rosen and Weissman, Nathan Guttman, writing in the Jerusalem Post on Aug. 17, reported:
“The Department of Justice has expressed interest in interviewing some of the Israeli diplomats who were in touch with the [sic] Franklin and with the two AIPAC officials. They were not mentioned by name in the indictment, but sources close to the case said that the main contact person for Franklin in the embassy was Naor Gilon, the former political officer. The other two officials mentioned in the indictment are Ambassador Danny Ayalon and Rafi Barak, the former deputy chief of mission.”
In the superseding indictment [.pdf], prosecutors list three Israeli embassy officials as “FO-1,” “FO-2,” and “FO-3,” in an effort to provide the Israelis with a fig leaf to preserve what is left of their modesty, even as their brazen exploitation of the Americans is exposed. However, the identities of these three Israeli spies are an open secret in Washington, although the Israelis are doing their level best to keep it out of the newspapers. If you follow the link to the Guttman piece, you’ll see that I had to use Google’s cached version: that’s because the Jerusalem Post expunged the original article. (I found it via this blog). Hmm . Now check out this Aug. 18 follow-up piece by Guttman,
“Three Israeli diplomats are also mentioned in the case, and referred to by code names ‘Foreign Official’ FO1, FO2 and FO3. Israeli and American sources have identified FO3 as Naor Gilon, the former political officer at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and FO1 as Rafi Barak, former deputy chief of mission at the embassy. Israeli sources emphasized that, contrary to prior media reports, ambassador Danny Ayalon is not the diplomat referred to in the indictment as FO2.”
Yet there’s only so much that can be done to minimize the damage caused by this case. Because, you see, the FBI was following these guys around Washington, watching and listening in as Rosen and Weissman gleaned American secrets from Franklin and passed them on to the Israelis. If Ayalon was “FO-2,” as identified in the indictment, then here’s what he’s been up to:
“On or about March 14, 2002, Rosen met with Foreign Official 2 (FO-2) and disclosed classified information regarding al-Qaeda, previously provided by USGO-2 on March 12, 2002.
“On or about March 13, 2003, Rosen met FO-2, who was assigned to a foreign embassy in Washington, D.C., Rosen disclosed to FO-2 information related to the classified draft internal United States government policy document that he had discussed with Franklin. Rosen also told FO-2 about the internal deliberations of United States government officials concerning the policy document that Franklin had disclosed to Rosen and Weissman.
“On or about August 27, 2004, following his false statements to FBI agents that day, Rosen contacted FO-2 and asked to meet with FO-2 or FO-3 about a ‘serious matter.’ Rosen also told FO-2 that the FBI had ‘made some allegations which are important’ and added that he did not want to ‘discuss it on the phone’ and did not want to go to FO-2’s embassy office.
“On or about August 27, 2004, following the above-referenced conversation with FO-2, Rosen went to a restaurant in Washington, D.C., near FO-2’s embassy office. Once there, Rosen approached FO-2 inside the restaurant. The two then proceeded outside where they engaged in conversation.”
The life of Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. is pretty damned exciting. Aside from appearing before such august bodies as the Nixon Center and egging on the U.S. to attack Syria, Ayalon’s other duties include sneaking around Washington, debriefing his spies inside the U.S. government, and meeting them on street corners when they need bail money. What a guy!
Ayalon may be in trouble due to other matters his wife is reportedly such an imperious harpy that the domestic help has complained to the Israeli civil service commission, and the whole matter is being adjudicated. However, one wonders how long he can last in his position if and when his extracurricular activities come out in open court. That the Israelis have not already recalled him is, perhaps, the measure of their arrogance.
Since the Franklin case began garnering headlines, the more radical Likudniks have rarely missed an opportunity to express their open contempt for the Americans. Check out this Jerusalem Post tirade by Caroline Glick, who describes the legal proceedings involving Rosen and Weissman as “anti-Zionist show trials,” akin to those that took place in the old Soviet Union (or Nazi Germany).
You’ll note that, here too, the Jerusalem Post expunged Glick’s original piece, but thanks to Google the historical record can’t be altered or covered up. Glick’s contention that the U.S. Department of Justice is filled with neo-Nazis, who have been giving this “unprecedented” case “the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic buildup” akin to that accompanying the so-called “doctor’s plot” invented by Stalin’s propagandists, perhaps deserved to be deleted. Yet one wonders at the crudeness of the attempt to shield our eyes from such Glickish vitriol. (Update: Oh, wait … it’s back.)
After all, it’s no secret that the Israelis are mad as heck about being forced to give up their arms sales to China, and having reluctantly recognized a Palestinian state due to pressure exerted by the Americans. The upcoming trial of Rosen and Weissman, along with Franklin’s recent guilty plea and implied promise to testify against his Israeli handlers can’t have improved their cranky disposition. What’s more, the Americans want to talk to Israeli diplomats who gathered up U.S. secrets, including Ayalon.
Fat chance. The Israelis aren’t talking but Franklin is, and one wonders if Ayalon will have the chutzpah to resist a sudden reassignment just before the former top Iran specialist in the Pentagon’s policy shop testifies to the ambassador’s talents as a spy as well as a diplomat. In any case, we are unlikely to be spared the unseemly spectacle of Israel’s spymaster in the U.S. lecturing us on the subject of American foreign policy any time soon.