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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wikileaks: Syria avoided accusing Israel of Suleiman assassination

From The Guardian:

It was late in the evening of 1 August 2008 in the Syrian coastal city of Tartous when the sniper fired the fatal shot. The target was General Muhammad Suleiman, President Bashar al-Assad's top security aide. Israelis, the US embassy in Damascus reported, were "the most obvious suspects" in the assassination.
US state department cables released by WikiLeaks trace the panicked response of the authorities. "Syrian security services quickly cordoned and searched the entire beach neighbourhood where the shooting had occurred," the embassy was informed. Syrian-based journalists were instructed not to report the story. It was a sensational event, akin to another mysterious assassination in Damascus earlier that year, when a car bomb killed Imad Mughniyeh, military chief of Hezbollah.
Initial reports were vague about Suleiman's identity and position, and the news blackout lasted for four days. But the US government knew exactly who he was. A secret document several months earlier gave his precise job description: "Syrian special presidential adviser for arms procurement and strategic weapons."
Eleven months earlier, Israeli planes had attacked and destroyed a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar on the Euphrates river, apparently one of the special projects Suleiman managed "which may have have been unknown to the broader Syrian military leadership", as the embassy put it. Israeli media reported that he had also served as Assad's liaison to Hezbollah.
Israel was the obvious suspect in Suleiman's murder, US officials reported. "Syrian security services are well aware that the coastal city of Tartous would offer easier access to Israeli operatives than would more inland locations such as Damascus. Suleiman was not a highly visible government official, and the use of a sniper suggests the assassin could visually identify Suleiman from a distance."
In the capital, the government remained silent, probably, the embassy speculated, because "(1) they may not know who did it; (2) such accusations could impair or end Syria's nascent peace negotiations with Israel; and (3) publicising the event would reveal yet another lapse in Syria's vaunted security apparatus."
In August, a book was published about Israel's destruction of Syria's secret nuclear reactor, and it discussed details of this assassination - as Suleiman was not only Syria's liaison to Hezbollah but he was also in charge of their nuclear program and possibly other weapons programs.