Monday, February 6, 2012

2006 #Wikileaks #Syria : #America #Warmongers Dirty Tricks Campaign !

2006 cable show U.S. advocating sectarianism, among other dirty tricks, to push for regime change in

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 005399 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NEA/ELA 
NSC FOR MARCHESE 
TREASURY FOR GLASER/LEBENSON 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER SY
SUBJECT: INFLUENCING THE SARG IN THE END OF 2006 
 
Classified By: CDA William Roebuck, for reasons 1.5 b/d 
 
¶1.  (S) Summary.  The SARG ends 2006 in a much stronger 
position domestically and internationally than it did 2005. 
While there may be additional bilateral or multilateral 
pressure that can impact Syria, the regime is based on a 
small clique that is largely immune to such pressure. 
However, Bashar Asad's growing self-confidence )- and 
reliance on this small clique -- could lead him to make 
mistakes and ill-judged policy decisions through trademark 
emotional reactions to challenges, providing us with new 
opportunities.  For example, Bashar,s reaction to the 
prospect of Hariri tribunal and to publicity for Khaddam and 
the National Salvation Front borders on the irrational. 
Additionally, Bashar,s reported preoccupation with his image 
and how he is perceived internationally is a potential 
liability in his decision making process.  We believe 
Bashar,s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to 
looming issues, both perceived and real, such as a the 
conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and 
entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the 
potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence 
of transiting Islamist extremists.  This cable summarizes our 
assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there 
may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send 
that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities 
arising.  These proposals will need to be fleshed out and 
converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move 
quickly to take advantage of such opportunities.  Many of our 
suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more 
indirect means to send messages that influence the inner 
circle.   End Summary. 
 
¶2.  (S) As the end of 2006 approaches, Bashar appears in some 
ways stronger than he has in two years.  The country is 
economically stable (at least for the short term), internal 
opposition the regime faces is weak and intimidated, and 
regional issues seem to be going Syria,s way, from 
Damascus, perspective.  Nonetheless, there are some 
long-standing vulnerabilities and looming issues that may 
provide opportunities to up the pressure on Bashar and his 
inner circle.  Regime decision-making is limited to Bashar 
and an inner circle that often produces poorly thought-out 
tactical decisions and sometimes emotional approaches, such 
as Bashar,s universally derided August 15 speech.  Some of 
these vulnerabilities, such as the regime,s near-irrational 
views on Lebanon, can be exploited to put pressure on the 
regime.  Actions that cause Bashar to lose balance and 
increase his insecurity are in our interest because his 
inexperience and his regime,s extremely small 
decision-making circle make him prone to diplomatic stumbles 
that can weaken him domestically and regionally.  While the 
consequences of his mistakes are hard to predict and the 
benefits may vary, if we are prepared to move quickly to take 
advantage of the opportunities that may open up, we may 
directly impact regime behavior where it matters--Bashar and 
his inner circle. 
 
¶3.  (S) The following provides our summary of potential 
vulnerabilities and possible means to exploit them: 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- THE HARIRI INVESTIGATION AND THE TRIBUNAL:  The Hariri 
investigation ) and the prospect of a Lebanon Tribunal -- 
has provoked powerful SARG reactions, primarily because of 
the embarrassment the investigation causes.  Rationally, the 
regime should calculate that it can deal with any summons of 
Syrian officials by refusing to turn any suspects over, or, 
in extreme cases by engineering "suicides.8  But it seems 
the real issue for Bashar is that Syria,s dignity and its 
international reputation are put in question.  Fiercely-held 
sentiments that Syria should continue to exercise dominant 
control in Lebanon play into these sensitivities.   We should 
seek to exploit this raw nerve, without waiting for formation 
of the tribunal. 
 
-- Possible action: 
 
-- PUBLICITY:  Publicly highlighting the consequences of the 
ongoing investigation a la Mehlis causes Bashar personal 
angst and may lead him to act irrationally.  The regime has 
deep-seated fears about the international scrutiny that a 
tribunal -- or Brammertz accusations even against 
lower-echelon figures -- would prompt.  The Mehlis 
accusations of October 2005 caused the most serious strains 
in Bashar's inner circle.  While the family got back 
together, these splits may lie just below the surface. 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- THE ALLIANCE WITH TEHRAN: Bashar is walking a fine line in 
his increasingly strong relations with Iran, seeking 
necessary support while not completely alienating Syria,s 
moderate Sunni Arab neighbors by being perceived as aiding 
Persian and fundamentalist Shia interests.  Bashar's decision 
to not attend the Talabani ) Ahmadinejad summit in Tehran 
following FM Moallem,s trip to Iraq can be seen as a 
manifestation of Bashar's sensitivity to the Arab optic on 
his Iranian alliance. 
 
-- Possible action: 
 
-- PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE:  There are fears 
in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia 
proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis.  Though 
often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni 
community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused 
on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through 
activities ranging from mosque construction to business. 
Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as 
prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving 
increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate 
more closely with their governments on ways to better 
publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- THE INNER CIRCLE:  At the end of the day, the regime is 
dominated by the Asad family and to a lesser degree by Bashar 
Asad,s maternal family, the Makhlufs, with many family 
members believe to be increasingly corrupt. The family, and 
hangers on, as well as the larger Alawite sect, are not 
immune to feuds and anti-regime conspiracies, as was evident 
last year when intimates of various regime pillars (including 
the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities. 
 Corruption is a great divider and Bashar's inner circle is 
subject to the usual feuds and squabbles related to graft and 
corruption.  For example, it is generally known that Maher 
Asad is particularly corrupt and incorrigible.  He has no 
scruples in his feuds with family members or others.  There 
is also tremendous fear in the Alawite community about 
retribution if the Sunni majority ever regains power. 
 
-- Possible Action: 
 
-- ADDITIONAL DESIGNATIONS: Targeted sanctions against regime 
members and their intimates are generally welcomed by most 
elements of Syrian society.  But the way designations are 
applied must exploit fissures and render the inner circle 
weaker rather than drive its members closer together.  The 
designation of Shawkat caused him some personal irritation 
and was the subject of considerable discussion in the 
business community here. While the public reaction to 
corruption tends to be muted, continued reminders of 
corruption in the inner circle have resonance.  We should 
look for ways to remind the public of our previous 
designations. 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- THE KHADDAM FACTOR:  Khaddam knows where the regime 
skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from 
Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has 
within Syria.  Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in 
general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with 
tremendous emotional interest.  The regime reacts with 
self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts 
Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any 
of its media outlets. 
 
-- Possible Action: 
 
-- We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to 
allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him 
with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry.  We should 
anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its 
isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors. 
 
Vulnerability: 
 
  -- DIVISIONS IN THE MILITARY-SECURITY SERVICES:  Bashar 
constantly guards against challenges from those with ties 
inside the military and security services.  He is also 
nervous about any loyalties senior officers (or former senior 
officers) feel toward disaffected former regime elements like 
Rif,at Asad and Khaddam.  The inner circle focuses 
continuously on who gets what piece of the corruption action. 
 Some moves by Bashar in narrowing the circle of those who 
benefit from high-level graft has increased those with ties 
to the security services who have axes to grind. 
 
-- Possible Action: 
 
-- ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: 
The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about 
coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and 
military.  Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should 
be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif,at 
Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate 
leaking of the meetings afterwards.  This again touches on 
this insular regime,s paranoia and increases the possibility 
of a self-defeating over-reaction. 
 
Vulnerability: 
 
-- REFORM FORCES VERSUS BAATHISTS-OTHER CORRUPT ELITES: 
Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on 
economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this 
issue is his legacy to Syria.  While limited and ineffectual, 
these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and 
have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. 
Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar,s reform 
efforts )- pointing, for example to the use of reform to 
disguise cronyism -- would embarrass Bashar and undercut 
these efforts to shore up his legitimacy.  Revealing Asad 
family/inner circle corruption would have a similar effect. 
 
-- Possible Action: 
 
-- HIGHLIGHTING FAILURES OF REFORM:  Highlighting failures of 
reform, especially in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential 
elections, is a move that Bashar would find highly 
embarrassing and de-legitimizing.  Comparing and contrasting 
puny Syrian reform efforts with the rest of the Middle East 
would also embarrass and irritate Bashar. 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- THE ECONOMY: Perpetually under-performing, the Syrian 
economy creates jobs for less than 50 percent of the 
country,s university graduates.  Oil accounts for 70 percent 
of exports and 30 percent of government revenue, but 
production is in steady decline.  By 2010 Syria is expected 
to become a net importer of oil.  Few experts believe the 
SARG is capable of managing successfully the expected 
economic dislocations. 
 
-- DISCOURAGE FDI, ESPECIALLY FROM THE GULF:  Syria has 
enjoyed a considerable up-tick in foreign direct investment 
(FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up 
steam.  The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the 
Gulf. 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- THE KURDS:  The most organized and daring political 
opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic 
minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria,s northeast, as well 
as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo.  This group has 
been willing to protest violently in its home territory when 
others would dare not.  There are few threats that loom 
larger in Bashar,s mind than unrest with the Kurds.  In what 
is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian 
Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the 
Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training 
and equipment to the Kurds in Syria. 
 
-- Possible Action: 
 
-- HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish 
complaints in public statements, including publicizing human 
rights abuses will exacerbate regime,s concerns about the 
Kurdish population.  Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish 
areas and the SARG,s long-standing refusal to offer 
citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds.  This issue 
would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong 
kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a 
liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given 
Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society,s skepticism of Kurdish 
objectives. 
 
-- Vulnerability: 
 
-- Extremist elements increasingly use Syria as a base, while 
the SARG has taken some actions against groups stating links 
to Al-Qaeda.  With the killing of the al-Qaida leader on the 
border with Lebanon in early December and the increasing 
terrorist attacks inside Syria culminating in the September 
12 attack against the US embassy, the SARG,s policies in 
Iraq and support for terrorists elsewhere as well can be seen 
to be coming home to roost. 
 
-- Possible Actions: 
 
-- Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) 
extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas 
and PIJ.  Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups 
in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and 
uncontrolled blowback.  The SARG,s argument (usually used 
after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of 
terrorism should be used against it to give greater 
prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria. 
 
¶4.  (S) CONCLUSION:  This analysis leaves out the anti-regime 
Syrian Islamists because it is difficult to get an accurate 
picture of the threat within Syria that such groups pose. 
They are certainly a long-term threat.  While it alludes to 
the vulnerabilities that Syria faces because of its alliance 
with Iran, it does not elaborate fully on this topic.  The 
bottom line is that Bashar is entering the new year in a 
stronger position than he has been in several years, but 
those strengths also carry with them -- or sometimes mask ) 
vulnerabilities.  If we are ready to capitalize, they will 
offer us opportunities to disrupt his decision-making, keep 
him off-balance, and make him pay a premium for his mistakes. 
 
ROEBUCK