Henry Forth writes from London: Word has it that for the past week or so spooks have been monitoring all flights from Syria closely, going through the ticket bookings, listening to mobile phone calls. Even more interestingly, ship movements through the Bosphorus were watched with great interest.
Why all the excitement, you may wonder. Well, the big question at the moment is whether Bashar al-Assad would step down and the answer, as everyone seems to think, lies in the whereabouts of Asma al-Assad, the Syrian President’s wife.
So here’s what I picked up on this story from one of my sources when I was in the Red Lion, at the Treasury end of Whitehall, and Geoff, my source, was sticking to tonic water, straight no other components included. I think someone’s told him he’s diabetic. No booze has been recommended. Anyway, with his blood sugar up, Geoff is a bit morose and so, bit by bit, it emerged that in his view Asma will soon be on the way to Moscow.
So what’s next, I asked.
Geoff sipped and shrugged, sipped and shrugged, showing that he wasn’t quite sure of the answer.
Finally he said that President al-Assad’s escape route would not be by air.
Really, I said, with a slight twist of sarcasm.
Geoff was never good at handling ‘really’, especially when he’s forced to drink tonic alone. So he ignored that one.
How then, I asked.
It’s a ship out of Latakia, he said. That’s how she’ll travel, if she hasn’t already.
More sipping, more shrugging, but this time with a bit of a nod. So as far as I could figure out it went something like this:
The internal revolution thing demands the head of Bashar al-Assad. That will satisfy all the sides in the war, even though he is not the real villain – his brother Mahar, who commands the army’s 4 Division, is. Anyway, Bashar al-Assad wants out, as one top Russian diplomat in Paris has hinted last week, to spend more time with his wife. He obviously remembers vividly what happened to Colonel Gaddafi who did not have a proper escape route in place.
So, a month ago, as Geoff tells it, at a meeting in Paris with the Russians, al-Assad’s trusted envoy passed word that his boss would not mind a long holiday in Moscow. Asma, is seems, was not very excited by the prospect but it was better than the other alternative. The deal is now supposedly on the table.
The Russians, the thinking goes and Geoff agrees with it, will get lots of international kudos for taking the heat off the international community that knows not what to do about Syria. The deal won’t satisfy the Free Syrian Army, obviously, but no one really cares a pig-sticker’s toss what they think because if that bunch get power then Syria will be a blood-pit of revenge seekers. So first things first: dismantle the dynasty.
Geoff reckons that several days ago it was decided to ship out the First Lady. And this is why Latakia is the place to watch.
The Russians, he says, have kept a ship in Latakia ever since that meeting in Paris, to take Asma into the Med up through the Istanbul Strait into the Black Sea and to Odessa. Then it’s Thank You For Flying Aeroflot to Moscow, for a spot of serious shopping.
Geoff says he’s pretty sure because the Russians are denying it. But he says, it’s the way they’re denying it: five or six similar statements (written a week ago). If the story’s true, it means Part One of the Syrian Story is being played.
Of course, none of this will resolve the agonies of the people of Syria, but then the major international powers don’t care about the people and, there’s not much they could do about it even if they did. Interesting that the Russians might have been right after all, Geoff says.
Right about what, I said.
Geoff sipped and shrugged in reply. As if implying that there are things that are better left unsaid.