As I was perusing some of the latest Wikileaks cables, I came across this little nugget about Asif Shawkat, the former head of Syrian Military Intelligence and brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad:
05PARIS6580 (September 26, 2005) — President Jacques Chirac’s Technical Advisor on Middle East/Americas Dominique Boche “reiterated that the content of the final Mehlis report would be decisive. If the report established direct [Syrian government] responsibility for Hariri’s assassination, Boche speculated that Bashar may give up second-tier officials up to the level of Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan and former [Syrian Military Intelligence] Chief in Lebanon Rustom Ghazaleh, without touching brother-in law Asif Shawkat, in-laws the Makhlufs, or his brother Mahir. Boche added that he could not exclude any possibilities for regime stability after the Mehlis report; there could be a “palace coup,” with other powerful Alawis taking over; the Alawites could lose control to the Sunnis, who lack leaders; or Bashar could seize the moment to consolidate his authority and marginalize others, as he has started to do since the last Ba’th party congress. [French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary-equivalent for Egypt/Levant] Besancenot was more cautious than Boche in reiterating to us that the [Government of France (GoF)] did not want a “total destabilization” in Syria, nor did the GoF want isolation of Syria to lead to it increasing its “nuisance capacity” in the region…”
“Boche confirmed that [Syrian Military Intelligence] Chief Asif Shawkat had visited Paris and met with [French intelligence agency DST] head Bosquet and no other GoF officials, before departing France. Boche described Shawkat’s visit as part of long-standing liaison relationship between French and Syrian security services, and noted Shawkat usually visited France twice a year. Boche described timing for the visit as “unfortunate,” and claimed that there was a lack of coordination within the GoF, with the Elysee learning of the visit only after Shawkat had arrived. He added that Shawkat has a sick child, which could have been another reason for the visit. Boche offered no details on the contents of Shawkat’s discussions with the DST.”
As is clear from the cable, the French were very uneasy about seeing Syria destabilized as a result of the Mehlis Report. If they were that anxious about the political fallout of a humble UN investigation report, I can only imagine what kinds of conversations are taking place today between French and American diplomats about the situation in Syria. For anyone still puzzled about the double standard of the Obama administration on Libya vs. Syria, these cables offer a sobering reminder of the fact that for all the bluster about the Axis of Evil, Hizbullah, Iran, yada yada yada, the prospect of an Assad-less Syria is even more problematic to the West than the “nuisance capacity” of the current regime.
Also, why hasn’t anyone else commented on the fact that Asif Shawkat was visiting France twice a year “as part of a long-standing liaison relationship between French and Syrian security services“? This is Asif Shawkat we’re talking about: the man with no face, the hidden hand of the Syrian mukhabarocracy, etc. Try to find a picture of the guy online and you might luck out with a couple grainy shots here and there. Meanwhile, the French were hosting him on a biannual basis to talk intelligence.
It is well-known that Shawkat (who made Foreign Policy’s list of the Middle East’s Most Powerful Spooks in 2009) also worked with the Americans after the 9/11 attacks to set up intelligence sharing and cooperation, but that this relationship broke down after Syria declined to join the Iraq war in 2003. I guess what I’m saying is that, like Jamil al-Sayyid (whom Feltman outed as an American intelligence asset in another Wikileaks cable), Shawkat is a perfect example of a Middle Eastern strongman whom the West likes to vilify as a public enemy, but who is, in reality, very much a private ally.