November 13, 2007 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 403

Syrian Media Answers March 14 Forces' Accusations Of Syrian Assassination Plot: Would Someone Who Disowned His Own Mother Have Any Difficulty Selling Out His People?; "Mubarak is Old and Senile"

November 13, 2007 | By H. Varulkar and Ofir Winter
Syria | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 403


On October 31, 2007, following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the chairman of Lebanon's Al-Mustaqbal faction, Sa'd Al-Hariri, announced that Syria's intelligence apparatus had plotted to assassinate both him and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora.

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which Al-Hariri owns, subsequently accused the Syrian regime of attempting to instigate civil war in Lebanon. It said that Al-Hariri's choice of venue for making his announcement – that is, Egypt's presidential palace – signified that Al-Hariri had Egypt's absolute backing, and that Egypt was positioning itself at the head of the Arab and international front against Syria.

Syria, on its part, issued only a brief official response to Al-Hariri's statements, demanding that he show evidence of his claims. While the Syrian government press did not respond to his statements, papers and websites not officially connected to the regime but known to be close to it did respond – with derision and smears of Al-Hariri, his family, and President Mubarak.

Al-Hariri in Egypt: Syria Plotted Assassination of Al-Siniora and Myself

Following his meeting with President Mubarak and his announcement, Sa'd Al-Hariri was asked by journalists about the reliability of reports he had cited about Arab and international intelligence apparatuses exposing a Syrian intelligence plot to assassinate himself and Prime Minister Al-Siniora using car bombs. He was also asked whether there was evidence that General Assef Shawkat, Syrian military intelligence chief and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, had headed the operation.

Al-Hariri answered: "We have information on this matter, and we are following it up. The information is accurate. Lebanese and other Arab security apparatuses are cooperating [in investigating] this assassination attempt, of which not only I but also Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora were the targets."

Al-Hariri also accused Syria of interfering in Lebanese affairs, and of trying to prevent the presidential election, adding: "The minute there was an open political dialogue [in Lebanon]... Antoine Ghanem, Lebanese MP from the March 14 Forces, was assassinated. March 14 Forces MPs are constantly being targeted [for assassination] because they represent the sovereign political line, which wants a free, autonomous Lebanon... Some ask us why we are accusing Syria [of carrying out assassinations], and we say that others [i.e. Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah] have accused Israel... Why would Israel murder Syria's enemies?" He added, "Matters are clear, and there is no need for proof [that Syria is behind the murders]..."

Al-Hariri said that he and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had discussed "the Lebanese presidential elections and the interference by some countries [in Lebanon's affairs] in an attempt to prevent the elections." He added, "President Mubarak was clear and very open. He told me that there must be no interference in Lebanese affairs, particularly in Lebanon's presidential election, and that Egypt would not take a neutral stand regarding this election. He said that any interference... whether in the presidential election or [with the aim of harming] Lebanon's stability, would be the same as harming Egypt's security and interfering in Arab affairs... His Excellency the President promised that steps would be taken in this matter."[1]

Al-Mustaqbal: The Assassination's Aim Was to Spark War Among Lebanon's Various Muslim Communities

The day after Al-Hariri revealed the alleged assassination plot, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal wrote in its editorial: "[The attempt] to assassinate the symbol of the Islamic-Sunni leadership, Sa'd Al-Hariri, was unequivocally [aimed at sparking] civil war and fitna [strife] among the [various] Muslim communities...

"In order to ensure that fitna would break out, the shrewd [Syrian] intelligence regime decided to also assassinate [Lebanese] Prime Minister Al-Siniora. By assassinating the prime minister – God forbid – [the Syrian regime] would ensure the creation of a complete vacuum [in Lebanon's] political regime and in the country.

"However, with this plot... the 'ingenious' [Syrian] intelligence regime defeated itself, [placing] at least three stumbling blocks [in its own path]. The first [stumbling block] is that the facts regarding the [assassination] plot... are highly credible, since they are the product [of information gathered by] Arab, international, and Lebanese [elements]. These facts will contribute significantly to the conclusion of the international investigation [into the assassination of Rafiq Al-Hariri]... There is no room to doubt that it is this regime, up to its highest echelons, that perpetrated [the Rafiq Al-Hariri assassination].

"The second stumbling block is that the Damascus regime, in its war against the Sunnis in Lebanon... is now positioning itself, more than ever, against the Sunni majority in Syria [itself]. For a long time, [this majority] put up with the discrimination against it, but [now] it is [unwilling] to tolerate the violence [against it] by [Assad's] minority regime any longer..."

Al-Hariri's Making His Announcement from Egypt Means Egypt No Longer Backs Syrian Regime

"The third stumbling block is that by assassinating [Sa'd] Al-Hariri, [or even by] plotting to assassinate Al-Hariri and Fuad Al-Siniora, the Syrian regime is exploding its relations with the Sunni Arab majority, and with the countries in which such a majority exists. These countries – and primarily the Saudi kingdom and Egypt – represent the leadership [of the] Arab regimes. Hence the great importance of exposing this Syrian terrorist plot in Egypt. Sa'd Al-Hariri [exposed] this plot from the podium of Egypt's presidential [palace] just after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Al-Hariri confirmed this information in responding to questions from Egyptian journalists. This means that there is an Egyptian wish to expose this information, and to stand behind it.

"Beyond this profound political symbolism, the Egyptian leadership sought, with this gesture... to direct a final warning to the Syrian regime to stop its terroristic interference in Lebanon. But it seems that beyond [being a warning], it was a declaration that Egyptian and Arab support for this regime was being rescinded. Thus, Egypt has become yet another Arab state – after the Saudi kingdom – to declare its impatience with Bashar's regime. The Syrian regime has hereby completely left the framework of Arab legitimacy.

"...The Arab element [that is partner] to the pressure on the Syrian regime is gradually taking the lead in [increasing] the external pressure [on Syria]. The Arab position no longer merely supplements the international position... it has become the main [element applying this pressure]. Thus the noose around the Syrian regime is completed. The two kingpins of the Arab world [representing] Arab legitimacy – the Saudi kingdom and Egypt – and the two kingpins of the international community representing international legitimacy – the U.S. and France – are forming an Arab/international quartet that has decided to protect Lebanon's election and its stability, in the face of the Syrian regime's decision [to create] a vacuum and fitna [in Lebanon]..."[2]

The Source of the Information Appears to Be Egyptian Intelligence

Faisal Salman, columnist for the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, wrote in a similar vein: "What does it mean that immediately after his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Sa'd Al-Hariri announced that there was a conspiracy to assassinate him and Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora?... Such things do not occur by happenstance, particularly not in Egypt. No one leaves a meeting with the president to find a microphone set up for him in the [presidential] palace, and a group of journalists [waiting] to ask him questions, [unless this was planned in advance].

"[Since such a thing did happen], someone in Egypt must have wanted to convey several messages, in several directions. The first message that can be inferred is that the source of the information about the assassination attempt is Egypt's intelligence apparatus. The second is that Egypt is very angry at those who plotted to assassinate Al-Hariri and Al-Siniora, and wanted them [i.e. Syria] to hear and see that Al-Hariri has won Egypt's protection..."[3]

Syria Demands that Al-Hariri Show Proof of His Claims

In an official response to Al-Hariri's accusations against Syria, a Syrian "media source" demanded that he present documentary evidence of the assassination plot. The source added: "Since the information is in [Al-Hariri's] possession, why doesn't he present it to local, Arab, and international public opinion?"[4]

"A knowledgeable Syrian source" also responded to Al-Hariri's accusations, saying: "Al-Hariri's statements at the Egyptian presidential palace, and the calumny and accusations against Syria, give rise to many questions. This is particularly so when they are timed to coincide with an increase in Egyptian measures [to end the crisis regarding the presidential election in Lebanon], as expressed by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit's visit to Lebanon, and by Cairo's direct contacts with figures in Lebanon – the most prominent of whom is Lebanese army commander Michel Suleiman..."

The source further stated: "Behind Al-Hariri's attempt to spread his lies from the presidential palace... stands his desire to harm Egypt-Syria relations."[5]

Editor of Syrian Daily Al-Watan: Before Each Planned Meeting Between the French Foreign Minister and His Lebanese Counterpart, the March 14 Forces Sacrificed One of Their MPs in Order to Prevent the Meeting from Taking Place

Wadhah 'Abd Rabbou, editor of the Syrian daily Al-Watan that is known to be close to the Syrian regime, wrote that Al-Hariri's accusations were meant to embarrass Syria in the Arab and international arena and to bring about its isolation:

"In a casual conversation with some Western diplomats, we told [them]: 'We [only] hope there isn't another assassination in Lebanon that will cause the cancellation of the meeting between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and [his Syrian counterpart] Walid Al-Mu'allem.' We laughed. It was bitter laughter, because [in June 2007], when Kouchner was meant to pay his first visit to Syria, the [Lebanese] majority [party, i.e., the March 14 Forces] sacrificed [one of its own MPs,] Walid 'Ido, and the visit was canceled. When Al-Mu'allem and Kouchner set up a meeting in New York, [the March 14 Forces] sacrificed [another of their MPs:] Antoine Ghanem. And now that a new date has been set for a Syrian-French meeting, we said 'Allah help us,' and began the countdown, hoping that the meeting would take place before [the March 14 Forces] could carry out another foolish act that would cause [this meeting] to be canceled [as well]. We were happy to hear that all the [March 14] MPs had been moved to the Venice Hotel 'in order to guarantee their safety' until the [parliamentary] session to elect a new Lebanese president, [which was to take place] following the Al-Mu'allem-Kouchner meeting scheduled for the third [of November, 2007]. We said, 'Thank God that the [Lebanese] MPs "in the crosshairs" are all safe'...

"We were glad – but then came a surprise, from an unexpected direction. This time, the burning news came from Cairo rather than Beirut: Sa'd Al-Hariri had told some reporters about an assassination attempt against himself and his most senior functionary, Fuad Al- Siniora. But [the plot] had, thank God, been discovered by the security apparatuses, and measures had been taken to thwart it!! As for the party behind [this assassination attempt] – it was clearly, and without a shred of doubt, Syria.

"This came as a [real] surprise. I must confess that I was not expecting this new rhetoric, and I did not expect Egypt to let the most ridiculous politician in Lebanon make such absurd accusations on its soil... This most recent accusation by Al-Hariri shows how much damage has been done to [the March 14 Forces in] Lebanon by the warming in Syrian-Western relations – especially [our] recent contacts with France and Britain, [our] excellent relations with Turkey, the invitations [we received] from Arab and [non-Arab countries] to participate in the Annapolis conference, and the world's recognition of the centrality of Syria's role [in the Middle East]. This accusation – like the other accusations made by the Lebanese mercenaries in coordination with their partners and financiers abroad – are aimed, as usual, at embarrassing Syria in the Arab and international arena, at bringing about its isolation, and at accusing it of undermining the security and stability of Lebanon. This disgrace is clear and obvious to all.

"What reassures [me] is that the lies of Al-Hariri, Al-Siniora and the other Lebanese mercenaries no longer find an audience. Even the countries that used to believe Al-Hariri's lies are now beginning to laugh when they listen to him..."[6]

Former Director of Syrian National Television: Mubarak is Old and Senile

Dr. Fuad Sharbaji, former director of Syrian national television and currently director of the Syrian TV channel Al-Dunia, wrote a scathing personal attack against Mubarak for providing Al-Hariri with a platform for making his accusations:

"Today, in the era of the 'old' or 'ailing' Mubarak, Egypt – an Arab state, the center and unifier of the Arab world – is relinquishing its [leadership] role and letting Al-Hariri use it as a platform [for his accusations]...

"Speaking of phantoms and fantasies, Sa'd Al-Hariri emerged from his meeting with the 'old man,' and said that Arab and international elements had exposed a plot, headed by a Syrian officer [namely, Syrian military intelligence chief General Assef Shawkat], to assassinate both himself and his representative and accountant, Prime Minister Al-Siniora. Since this announcement [immediately] followed Al-Hariri's [meeting with] Mubarak, the 'Arab elements' referred to must clearly be Mubarak's Egypt, while the international elements are undoubtedly Israel and the U.S. – for there is no [real] difference [between any of them].

"...Mubarak is imagining phantoms that are planning to assassinate Al-Siniora and Al-Hariri. Has President [Mubarak] reached such an advanced age that all sorts of fantasies are beginning to run through his mind, that he [then] shares with his guests for their entertainment and pleasure? Or is Al-Hariri still in the clutches of some childhood phobia, [which caused him] to tell his host the story of the assassination [attempt], which Mubarak accepted and elaborated upon?...

"Egypt has become the leader of the 'moderate' Arab countries... Anyone [hearing] the statements of [Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad] Abu Al-Gheit in Beirut thought he must be listening to the American ambassador. Anyone hearing the statements of Al-Hariri, citing Mubarak, [immediately] recalled Mubarak's position on the 'resistance,' and how he, along with Saudi Arabia, provided political backing for Israel's aggression [against Lebanon in the 2006 war]. Considering that Al-Siniora's government is part of the security interests of the U.S. – as Bush [himself once] declared – [it is not surprising that] Mubarak is committed to defending it... But his age is taking its toll, and his subservience to the U.S. involves [certain] obligations.

"...Egypt will continue to be a unifying force for the Arabs. It is inconceivable that it should serve as a platform for a little boy [i.e. Al-Hariri] whose statements combine the immaturity of a child with the senility and pettiness of old man Mubarak."[7]

Syrian Website: "Would Someone Who Disowned His Own Mother Have Any Difficulty" Selling Out His People?

The Syrian website, whose owners are known to be close to the Syrian regime, posted an article by a "Lebanese citizen" smearing Sa'd Al-Hariri and his family:

"From time to time we hear the name Nidhal Bustani Al-Hariri, but we know very little about her and about what became of her. All we know is that she was the first wife of [former Lebanese prime minister] Rafiq Al-Hariri and the mother of Baha and Sa'd Al-Hariri.

"There are many questions concerning her and her fate – for instance, why did Rafiq Al-Hariri leave her? Was it in return for his first million dollars, about his acquisition of which he asked a television interviewer not to inquire...? Did Rafiq Al-Hariri leave his first wife and three children because of pressures, or because of the Saudi capital and citizenship that he was so eager to obtain?

"After Al-Hariri left his wife – for whatever reason – did she remain in the harem... or did she commit suicide, as rumor had it? [Even] if Rafiq Al-Hariri, husband of Nidhal Bustani, had reasons, however reprehensible, for leaving his wife – what keeps her children from mentioning her in any way?...

"How can a disloyal son, who disowned his own mother, be in charge of public and national affairs without feeling any shame? Would someone who disowned his own mother have any difficulty disowning his people and his sect, and selling them out in the international slave-market?

"Can anyone shed light on what became of Nidhal Bustani and expose the injustice done to her, if she has indeed suffered an injustice? Perhaps her Iraqi origins are the reason for her abandonment [by her family] and for the silence surrounding her fate. [We are] waiting for someone to expose the details of her story, to reveal this injustice, and to [dispel] the secrecy surrounding [this affair]."[8]

*H. Varulkar and O. Winter are research fellows at MEMRI.

[1] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 31, 2007. That same day, sources close to Prime Minister Fuad Al-Siniora confirmed the information revealed by Al-Hariri on the Syrian intelligence apparatus's plot to assassinate them both. On November 1, 2007, Al-Siniora himself confirmed the statements, saying: "Reliable information has come in on the plot to carry out an assassination. We are looking into the matter. We condemn these operations and those who are thinking of carrying them out. We are continuing to take precautionary measures..." Al-Mustaqbal, Lebanon, October 31, 2007; November 1, 2007.

[2] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 1, 2007.

[3] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 31, 2007.

[4] Al-Thawra (Syria), November 1, 2007.

[5] Al-Watan (Syria), November 1, 2007; Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 1, 2007.

[6] Al-Watan (Syria), October 31, 2007.

[7], November 2, 2007.

[8], November 1, 2007.

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