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The Bush administration sent a message to Syrian strongman Bashar Assad that the former opthalmologist could not help but see, if he keeps his eyes open. A "senior administration official" told at least two media outlets yesterday that the US has credible intelligence of Syrian plans to assassinate Lebanese leaders in their new, free electoral system:
The United States has received "credible information" that Syrian operatives in Lebanon plan to try to assassinate senior Lebanese political leaders and that Syrian military intelligence forces are returning to Lebanon to create "an environment of intimidation," a senior administration official said Thursday.
The official said that the information had come from "a variety of Lebanese sources" and that "we assess it as credible." The information, he said, was gathered after the recent assassinations of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, and of Samir Kassir, a well-known journalist, a week ago. ...
The administration official volunteered the information about what he said was a "Syrian hit list" on the condition that he not be identified by name or agency. A spokesman for the official, asked why the official would not make the assertions more openly, said it was because of the diplomatic sensitivities involved as well as the usual reluctance to discuss intelligence matters openly.
It was clear that the official's statements, which were offered to reporters from at least two news organizations, were a deliberate signal of the Bush administration's continuing displeasure with the Syrian government's role in Lebanon.
He said that information about the threat had been disseminated to governments in the Middle East and Europe and that "we thought it would be useful to make this public as a deterrent to the Syrians."
After the assassination last week of Samir Kassir, a journalist that regularly wrote in opposition to Syrian occupation and influence in Lebanon, the Bush administration has decided to put Assad on notice. This couldn't even properly be called a leak, as its intention is so obvious that "unsigned press release" makes a better nomenclature for it. Bush already has plenty of evidence that Syria has lent material support for the insurgents in Iraq, and their continuing efforts to meddle in Lebanon after their abrupt departure violates the UN Security Council's resolutions calling for them to cease interfering in Beirut's affairs.
Now that the US has publicly accused Assad of planning assassinations, any more murders could be used by the US as an opportunity to haul Assad to the UNSC for some public humiliation -- which his teetering regime can ill afford -- or to start conducting raids on the inside of the Syrian border under a 'hot pursuit' philosophy, chasing insurgents but also undermining Assad's grip on power as the US makes him appear less and less credible as a leader to his own people. Now that the Syrians have ceased cooperating on intelligence for the war on terror to the small extent they did in the past, the Bush administration has no good reason to spare them from the Bush Doctrine.
In any event, the US has made it clear to Syria that Lebanon matters, and we will watch closely to ensure that Syria keeps its hands to itself.Sphere It View blog reactions
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