CIA: Assad has 'intermittent dementia'

'Final agreement between Israel and Syria could come quickly'

By Amir Oren
Ha'aretz News Correspondent, March 6, 2000

Israeli and American intelligence agencies are locked in dispute over Syrian President Hafez Assad's medical condition. A CIA report recently handed over to Israel, states that Assad is stricken with "intermittent dementia." Israeli Military Intelligence however does not approves of the manner in which this diagnosis was made - through a compilation of reports by people who have met Assad personally and those who have heard of fluctuations in his coherence and ability to concentrate.

The dictionary definition of dementia is "a condition of deteriorated mentality, often with emotional apathy" and is usually treated by psychiatric and geriatric physicians. There are those in the Israeli defense establishment who do indeed agree with this definition and a senior official recently compared Assad to a "stuffed animal." But Military Intelligence believe that a proper diagnosis can only be made via medical methods that are currently beyond the CIA's reaches.

Furthermore, Intelligence believes that Assad's health does not bear any real weight on his ability to maintain his rule and take decisions, such as an agreement with Israel or the transfer of power to his son Bashar.

Nonetheless, Assad's health is an important issue for both Prime Minister Ehud Barak and American President Bill Clinton in the final stage of an Israel-Syria agreement.

At such a final stage, two meetings between Assad and Barak are likely. The first, possibly in Geneva, is meant as an ice-breaker between the two hostile states. The second, in Washington or some other American location, will be attended by Clinton in an attempt to achieve a Camp David-type agreement and will seek to finalize arrangements made behind the scenes by representatives from the three countries. Such a meeting would last only a day or two.

Indeed, it was mentioned in Cairo this week that only a short time was needed to finalize certain key issues between Israel and Egypt at Camp David, with the majority of time and efforts being spent on the still unresolved Palestinian issue.

Reports coming in from Cairo, following Barak's request of President Hosni Mubarak to help on the Syria-Israel channel, say that the Syrian insistence on basing the borders on the "June 4, 1967 line" and not the "international line" is linked to Syria's continued renunciation of the borders drawn by the British and French mandatory forces between Syria and Turkey in the north, Lebanon to the east and Palestine to the south.

Israeli intelligence estimates Assad's life-span to be anywhere between "a day to two years" and when asked for a more exact estimate, they state that Assad's end will probably come closer to a "day" than to "two years"

Less than six weeks before the death of Hussein King of Jordan, intelligence estimated that Assad would last between a "year to three." Following discussions over the methods used to arrive at the estimates reached by Director of Military Intelligence Major General Amos Malka, the estimate was adjusted to "zero to three years"

Israeli intelligence believes that key Assad colleagues and others holding powerful positions in the Syrian regime are in fact in favor of peace with Israel. They believe that if Assad does sign an agreement with Israel, it will be honored by his successors, even if he dies only a short time after the signing. This theory is also supported by leaders and senior officials in the Arab states bordering Israel, including Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Former assistant U.S. defense secretary Joseph Nye, who last week visited Beirut and Tel Aviv, told members of the defense establishment that Lebanese President Emile Lahud and his military commander had whispered in his ears that the chances of reaching an Israel-Syria agreement are high. "There will be peace" a senior Lebanese official told him.

Senior defense officials believe that if Israel rejects a "fair offer" from Syria for a peace agreement, the American administration could severly limit the provision of weapons to the IDF, similar to Kissinger's 1975 re-evaluation of relations