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The Assassination of Assad’s Top Aide By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, August 11, 2008

Britain’s Sunday Times reports that Brig.-Gen. Muhammad Suleiman, the key aide to Syrian president Bashar Assad who was assassinated last August 2, had been the one supplying Hezbollah with Russian-made SA-8 anti-aircraft missiles that threatened Israel’s air supremacy over Lebanon.


The Times cites the London-based Saudi paper Al-Sharq al-Awsat as saying Suleiman was “senior even to the defense minister” and “knew everything.” He had been Bashar Assad’s personal mentor since 1994, and after becoming prime minister in 2000 Assad appointed Suleiman as his operations officer with responsibility for protecting the regime.

The Times notes that Suleiman “was killed by a single shot to the head as he sat in the garden of his summer house near the northern port city of Tartus. Nobody heard the shot, which appears to have been fired from a speedboat by a sniper, possibly equipped with a silencer.”

In other words, a highly sophisticated job that seems to point to Israel. Right after the assassination, though, with speculations swirling as to who was responsible, and some even saying it was an inside job by Assad himself because Suleiman knew too much about Assad’s involvement in the killing of Rafik Hariri and other Lebanese figures, it was thought that Israel wasn’t a likely suspect because of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s push for Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

The Times, though, cites Israeli sources as saying that “during Assad’s visit to Paris last month…Olmert…asked President Nicolas Sarkozy to tell Assad that he was ‘crossing a red line supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon.’” Defense Minister Ehud Barak, for his part, has been extremely perturbed by Syria’s ongoing weapons largesse to Hezbollah and particularly the anti-aircraft missiles. Last week Israel’s security cabinet got an intelligence briefing on the mounting danger.

Lending further plausibility to the Sunday Times’ claim that Suleiman’s killing was “intended [by Israel] as a warning to the Syrian regime” is that it could fit into a picture of deep penetration of Syria by Israeli intelligence leading to successful operations. It was last September that Israeli planes took out the North Korean-supplied Syrian nuclear reactor after intelligence, among other things, provided photos taken within the reactor itself.

And it was last February that terrorist kingpin Imad Mughniyeh was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in a “clean” job that claimed no other casualties. Unlike the reactor, Israel has never taken responsibility and here, too, speculation has been rife with Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran fingered for various internecine motives while Hezbollah itself has blamed Israel and sworn revenge.

Bolstering the possibility that Israel is behind all three strikes is the known capability, hawkishness, and closeness to Olmert of Mossad chief Meir Dagan, whose tenure Olmert extended in June in a move that some saw as signaling Israeli plans to attack Iran’s nuclear program. Dagan’s fierce opposition to Israel’s terrorists-for-corpses “prisoner swap” with Hezbollah last July also apparently caused Olmert to have misgivings about the deal before finally deciding to go through with it.  

Enhanced Israeli assertiveness toward the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis could only encourage those who are concerned about the decline in Israel’s deterrence and rational functioning as seen recently in the 2005 disengagement that turned Gaza into a bristling Hamastan, the failed 2006 war against Hezbollah, the passivity before the continuing Hamas and Hezbollah buildups, and last month’s “prisoner-swap” debacle.

It remains to be seen whether Barak’s—and possibly Olmert’s—exasperation with Syria signals the beginnings of a readjustment to Middle Eastern reality coupled with a willingness to use Israel’s great capabilities effectively against its foes.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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