Khaddam's Bombshell: Assad Wanted to 'Crush' Hariri
Retrieved from Naharnet.com on Dec 31, 2005
Abdel-Halim Khaddam, Syria's former vice-president and long-time point man in Lebanon, has defected big time, accusing President Bashar Assad of personally threatening "in the harshest possible terms to crush" Rafik Hariri before the latter's assassination Feb. 14.
In a rare interview Friday, Khaddam strongly hinted at collusion between Assad's regime in Damascus and President Emile Lahoud in the bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people.
He said Syria turned a blind eye, but Lahoud's "inner circle" was the possible perpetrator of the crime against the architect of Lebanon's recovery from civil war.
The revelations galvanized the Lebanese public opinion and media. One senior official in Beirut exclaimed: "That was a resonating earthquake," according to An Nahar.
Khaddam unveils the secrets behind the calamity of Hariri's assassination: Will he become the investigation's prime witness?" shouted An Nahar's banner headline Saturday.
In the clearly pre-recorded interview on the Al Arabiya television channel, the half-century veteran of Damascus' ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party showered Assad with scathing criticism. He called him a "one-man show" and an "absolute authoritarian," but insisted that their meetings, since the first in 1998, always were "courteous."
He accused the Syrian regime of committing "recurring blunders" after Assad succeeded his father, the late Hafez Assad, in 2000. Performance in Lebanon was one such a mistake.
Assad was not the only Syrian official to humiliate Hariri, according to Khaddam.
Syria's military intelligence chief in Lebanon, the once dreaded Maj. Gen. Rustom Ghazaleh, enjoyed his share in heaping threats and insults on the slain ex-prime minister. On one occasion, Ghazaleh, a gun in his hand, threatened Hariri with his life, said Khaddam.
Lahoud and his top aide, the now imprisoned former director-general of the Surete Generale Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, poisoned Assad's thinking of Hariri with a relentless barrage of disinformation.
In an uncustomary insight into the machinations and intrigues of the Damascus regime, Khaddam confessed that he quit as vice president in June, because he felt Assad was being manipulated by his inner circle, which includes the president's younger brother, Maher, brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
He disclosed that he advised Hariri in August 2004, days before the extension of Lahoud's presidential term, that the mood in Damascus was unfavorable. Khaddam suggested to Hariri that he quit as premier and leave Lebanon.
"But it never occurred to me that Syria would assassinate Premier Hariri," he remarked – the closest he came to fingering Damascus.
"Yes, many threats were directed face-to-face to the late Premier Hariri," said Khaddam. During one encounter, he recalled, Assad told Hariri "I will crush you, and anyone who defies our wishes."
The late Gen. Maj. Ghazi Kenaan, then Syrian interior minister, and Ghazaleh, who had succeeded Kenaan as Syria's military intelligence in Lebanon, attended the meeting, and Khaddam said he heard the same version of the threat from "three sources," including Assad himself.
After that particular confrontation, Hariri developed hypertension and began to bleed from the nose. Kenaan took him to his office to calm him down.
Asked if he thought a Syrian security unit could have been behind the assassination without Assad's knowledge, Khaddam said this was not possible in Syria, because the Syrian president is an "absolute authoritarian."
Khaddam dismissed as "imbeciles" the authors of the tale that a Muslim extremist named Ahmad Abu Adas had killed Hariri in a suicide bombing.
He questioned how Abu Adas, who never was heard of on any political or security scene, could possess 1,000 kilograms of sophisticated explosives and jamming equipment and not be detected by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence operatives, who effectively ruled the country.