Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Don’t Be Too Quick to Thank the Assads!

Previous “Islamist” attacks in Syria have always looked suspicious, even staged, to most onlookers and analysts, their particular sympathies, be they pro-regime or anti-regime, notwithstanding. The reason for this was the choice of target, namely: empty buildings. Now, we have a seemingly more credible attack in terms of target selection, but the choice of methods and tactics is truly problematic.

For blowing up gas containers will not cause even a dent in the heavily fortified walls of the American Embassy, and the only people who are likely to be hurt in such an attack are the security guards outside, and the line of innocent bystanders, mostly Syrians, waiting to apply for an American visa. Moreover, the pictures we saw on TV indicate that the car exploded at the entrance of the narrow alley where people stand in line, near the iron gate that leads into the Embassy, that is, in the area of least people concentration and least likelihood of being affected by the explosion. Add to this, the fact that one of the cars used in the attack was a van.

The problem with this is latter fact is that everybody in Syria knows that vans are simply not allowed to pass through certain sensitive areas and neighborhoods, and the Malki and Abu Rummaneh neighborhoods where the US Embassy is located, alongside many other western embassies and the domiciles of so many diplomats and high level Syrian officials, including our Illustrious President (may Allah increase him in stupidity and cut his reign short), are definitely the prime areas in this regard.

As such, for a van to simply waltz into the neighborhood is not exactly something that will go unnoticed by security agents. Indeed, security vehicles will be dispatched within seconds of the initial sighting to intercept the hapless vehicle. So, we have a situation here where either the terrorist group involved is made up of a bunch of buffoons and nitwits who thought that they could somehow rush into the Embassy and blow it up with gas containers before anyone could stop them, or we have to conclude that the entire event was intended and set up to fail from the very get-go.

Naturally, I tend to favor the latter alternative, simply because the marriage between the Syrian intelligence apparatuses and certain Islamist elements and the way these elements are used to further certain interests and policies of the regime is well-established by now. In fact, the case of the Syrian Turkmen smuggler-turned preacher, Abu’l Qa’qa’, is a clear testimony to this effect.

Indeed, the man had operated quite publicly in the 2003-4 period and helped recruit and send young Syrian and Arab jihadists to join the “resistance” in Iraq as part of the semi-official campaign that was underway at the time. But, and when the stench grew too strong for the authorities and they came under increasing pressures to curb the flow of jihadi elements to Iraq, and whatever public recruitment activities that were taken place at the time, Abu’l Qa’qa’ changed his tune and reinvented himself as a businessman and a philanthropist, He even did a few public appearances and interviews with the semi-official press at the time, before he all too quietly disappeared from the scene. But taped lectures by him resurfaced a few months ago when the authorities raided a suspected Islamist cell in the aftermath of the attack on an empty security building near the headquarters of the Syrian public TV in Damascus, an attack widely believed to have been staged as well, as it coincided with ongoing attempts to rally public support for the Assads. The authorities said at the time that Abu’l Qa’qa’ had, very conveniently, slipped out of the country.

Indeed, throughout the last few years, Islamist activities, both in Syria and neighboring countries, have been very conveniently timed to suit the interests of the Assads. This one is no exception. At a time when the future of the Syrian regime is still being debated, a reminder of the potential role that the Assads can play in the war against terror might be useful, at least for those who are willing to believe in the impossibly ludicrous.