The chain reaction set off by the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14 is gaining force. The murder has already been the catalyst for driving the Syrian military out of Lebanon. The latest casualty appears to be Ghazi Kanaan, the powerful Syrian Interior Minister and ex-chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. Syrian authorities say Kanaan committed suicide in his Damascus office on Oct. 12. The question now is whether the fallout will reach all the way to President Bashar Al Assad. "This is a landmark event," says Murhaf Jouejati, director of Middle East Studies at George Washington University in Washington. Kanaan "was a very important person in the inner circle."
Kanaan's death is a sign of growing international pressure on the Assad regime. Detlev Mehlis, a U.N. investigator, had interviewed Kanaan in late September, and it was rumored that Mehlis would finger Syrian intelligence operatives, possibly including Kanaan, in a report on Hariri's assassination due on Oct. 25. The inquiry comes at a time when the U.S. is toughening its line. On Oct. 9, David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, criticized Syria for a list of offenses.
The Bush Administration chiefly is unhappy about Assad's tolerance of Iraqi opposition activities in Syria and his inability or unwillingness to close Syria's borders with Iraq to jihadis. Some analysts think the U.S. is now intent on bringing Assad down. Certainly the regime is jittery, and it's not clear Assad is in full control. Kanaan's demise will add to the tensions.
By Stanley Reed in London
Edited by Rose Brady