Analysis / Who Benefits From Kanaan's Death?

A series of events, both past and expected, creates a context that could explain the apparent suicide of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan.

Two weeks ago the international UN committee investigating the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri interrogated Kanaan, a former Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon. On Tuesday the Lebanese television station New TV (owned by Tahsin Alhayat, who is no Hariri supporter) reported that Kanaan told the committee Hariri had paid him huge sums of money. New TV said Kanaan showed the investigators checks signed by Hariri as proof that he had a lot to gain from continuing the relationship. In other words, he had no motive for murdering Hariri.

On Wednesday Kanaan went on Lebanese radio to deny this report and asked the moderator, whom he knew, to broadcast his prepared statement, which was aired with no interruptions, as though it had been prearranged with the television and radio networks in Lebanon.

In less than two weeks the International Commission of Inquiry headed by Detlef Mehlis is expected to release its findings. According to the rumors in Lebanon, top Syrian officials, perhaps including Kanaan, are possible suspects. In other words, the Syrian administration rather than some "accidental murderer" is behind Hariri's murder.

Is there anything in these circumstances that could have driven Kanaan to suicide? Was he ordered to kill himself? Or did an assassin wait in his office, shoot him and then place the revolver in his hand? The Syrian government reported that Kanaan died from a bullet from his own gun.

At this stage all is possible, and Kanaan's death may have been a suicide like that in 2000 of Mahmoud Zuabi, who was then being investigated for corruption. But it would not be out of place to ponder who would benefit from Kanaan's removal.

Kanaan knew the history of Syrian control in Lebanon, under both the late president Hafez Assad and his son Bashar, and carried the facts in his head and in his documents. Bashar appointed him interior minister and internal security chief and if any government directive to eliminate Hariri existed, Kanaan certainly knew about it. If General Rostom Ghazale, who replaced Kanaan as head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, had threatened Hariri, Kanaan would have known that, too.

It is possible the assassins who killed Hariri feared what Kanaan knew and wanted to ensure his silence. It is less likely that Kanaan was involved in the murder, and that conscience drove him to kill himself. This would be out of character, according to the profiles of him in Western media and intelligence files.

Will Kanaan's death affect the probe of Hariri's murder? That depends on where the inquiry stands. Egyptian and Syrian sources report that Bashar Assad showed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak copies of the inquiry transcripts, and that they indicate the committee does not blame the Syrian regime. If this is true, then Kanaan's suicide will not change that thrust of the conclusions. But if the commission intends to question senior Syrian officials in the next two weeks on the basis of information from Kanaan, it may now hit a brick wall, as those suspects can pass the blame to the dead Kanaan.