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Dark Secrets

The sordid history of Syria's collaboration with Qaddafi.

Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By LEE SMITH
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Bitar, who worked at the Syrian embassy in Paris in the ’80s when Damascus was running Palestinian terrorist organizations out of the French capital, says that the intelligence officer responsible for liaison work with other clandestine services was Gen. Mohammed Khouly. “He was with air force intelligence and since Hafez was from the air force that was another reason to trust him. With Bashar all the intelligence outfits are constantly being reshuffled because he doesn’t trust any of these people. That’s why he’s bringing back some of his father’s associates, men Hafez totally trusted​—​like Mohammed Khouly.”

Bitar suspects that it is Khouly who dispatched Syrian intelligence officers to Tripoli to clean the Libyan files. “They don’t want to get on the bad side of the Americans.” However, it’s difficult to know what sort of extravagant mischief Damascus would have to pull to get on Washington’s bad side. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have made a habit of looking the other way when it comes to Syria​—​whether it’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas, or serving as a transit route for foreign fighters on their way into Iraq to kill American soldiers and U.S. allies, Syria has paid no price for its misdeeds. Even reports that Syria has built a second secret nuclear facility, this one on the outskirts of Damascus, have failed to sour a White House that still believes the central issue in the Middle East is the Arab-Israeli peace process. Obama—and probably Obama alone—seems to think that a deal between Damascus and Jerusalem will take the air out of Iran’s balloon and calm the region down.

Even so, the furies now coursing the Middle East will not be quelled by a peace process. The real Middle East experts are in the regimes themselves and they know which way the winds are blowing, or else Syrian intelligence would not be cleaning up its files in Libya​—​they’re hedging their bets in the fear that no matter how many pilots they rent out to him, Qaddafi’s days may be numbered.

“Khaddam believes it is coming to Syria, too,” says Bitar. Of course, Khaddam in exile has plenty of reason to wish for the downfall of the regime he once worked for and now loathes. The history of collaboration between Syria and Libya shows that the regime in Damascus is apt to be every bit as brutal as Qaddafi’s when pushed to the wall, and someday maybe not too far in the future it will be.

Lee Smith is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD. His book The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Anchor) has just been published in paperback.

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