Ghazi Kanaan

Ghazi Kanaan (Arabic: غازي كنعان‎; 1942 – 12 October 2005) (Arabic: غازي كنعان‎; transliterations vary), also known as Abu Yo'roub, was Syria's Interior Minister from 2004 to 2005, and long-time head of Syria's security apparatus in Lebanon. His violent death during an investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri drew international attention.

Ghazi Kanaan
غازي كنعان
Minister of Interior
In office
4 October 2004 – 12 October 2005
PresidentBashar Assad
Prime MinisterMuhammad Naji al-Otari
Preceded byAli Hammoud
Succeeded byBassam Abdel Majeed
Personal details
Bhamra, Latakia Governorate, Syria
DiedOctober 12, 2005(2005-10-12) (aged 62–63)
Damascus, Syria
Political partySyrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party
Military service
Years of service1963–2004
RankSyria-Liwa.jpg Major General

Early life and educationEdit

Ghazi Kanaan was born in 1942 in Bhamra, near Qardaha, the home town of former Syrian president Hafiz Asad.[1] This region, centered on the coastal town of Latakia, is in heartland Syria's Alawite minority, of which both men were part.[2] Ghazi was a member of the Kalbiyya tribe and a distant relative of Bashar’s mother, Anisa Makhlouf.[3] Kanaan graduated from the Homs Military Academy in 1965.[2][4]

Career and activitiesEdit

Kanaan, as a young military officer, pledged allegiance to Hafez Assad, who seized power in 1970.[5] Kanaan participated in the fight against the Israelis on the Golan Heights in the 1970s.[2] He rose in rank to colonel and served as the director of intelligence in of Central Syria (Homs) from 1981 to 1982.[5][6]

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, parts of which were already under Syrian military domination, he was assigned to head the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon in 1982. His term lasted for twenty years until 2002.[4] However, Kanaan did not leave Lebanon until a ceremony was held by then Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri at the prime ministry on 9 October 2003, and when Hariri symbolically gave him the key of the city.[7]

During his tenure in Lebanon, Kanaan gained a decisive Syrian influence over Lebanese affairs, and gradually subdued the warring Lebanese militias through a combination of diplomacy, bribery and force. During the 1980s, he developed collaborators with the predominantly Christian and previously Lebanese Forces-Executive Command which was run by Elie Hobeika, but it was only about 2,000 soldiers.[6] He also became a close confidant of Rafik Hariri.[8] After Israel's withdrawal from its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, Kanaan extended Syria's influence there, and backed the Hezbollah movement's takeover of the area.[9]

Syria established an absolute power in Lebanese elections of 1992, 1996 and 2000 through Kanaan.[10] After the Taif agreement in 1989, it was Kanaan who determined fourteen electoral districts of Lebanon.[11] On behalf of Syrian government, he vetoed the anti-Syrian candidates, urged the political leaders to include pro-Syrian candidates in their candidate lists, and balanced the number of religious candidates with secular ones in some districts.[10][12] In addition, Syria exerted influence on security and judicial appointments in the country through Kanaan.[13] On the other hand, the head of Lebanon's Sureté Générale (General Security Directorate), Jamil Al Sayyed, reported directly to Kanaan, often bypassing the civilian leadership of the Lebanese government.[6] Kanaan became the most feared man in the Lebanon during his term, since he had the power to order the arrest and indefinite detention of anyone.[6]

In 2000, the widow and children of Ira Weinstein who was killed in a February 1996 Hamas suicide bombing, filed a lawsuit against him as the head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon and then Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass charging that they were responsible for providing the perpetrators with material resources and training.[14]

After being an early backer of Syrian president Bashar Assad as a successor to his father, Kanaan was in October 2002 summoned back to Damascus to become the head of Syria's political security directorate, replacing Adnan Badr Hassan in the post.[15] He was succeeded in Lebanon by Rustum Ghazali, his deputy.[8][16] In 2004, after a string of bombings targeting leading Hamas members given sanctuary in Syria, claimed by Syria to have been the work of Israeli intelligence, Kanaan was assigned by president Assad to the cabinet post of interior minister in October 2004 in a cabinet rehuffle.[4][17] The cabinet was headed by Muhammad Naji al-Otari.[17] On the internal Syrian political scene, Kanaan was considered close to the president, although at the same time part of the "old guard" of Syrian politics.

On 30 June 2005, the United States, which had been pressuring Syria over the Hariri bombing and to end Syrian occupation, declared that it would freeze all assets belonging to Kanaan[4][18] and Ghazali, due to their involvement with the occupation of Lebanon, and also due to suspicions of "corrupt activities".[19]

Kanaan was not regarded as a member of Bashar Assad's inner circle. He was known to have close links with the former vice president, Abdul Halim Khaddam who had resigned in the summer of 2005. Some believed that they both might have developed a challenging powerbase within the Syrian Regional Branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party against Bashar Assad in future.[20]

Business activitiesEdit

Ghazi Kanaan was one of the shareholders of LibanCell, a cellular phone company. The company was awarded a ten-year contract in 1994.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

Kanaan was married and had six children, four sons and two daughters.[21][22] One of his sons, Yaroob, is married to daughter of Jamil Assad.[3]

Kanaan provided financial support to build the Jaafar Tayar mosque, established a library with seven computers and built a community center named for his father, Mohammed Ali in Bhamra.[23] In short, he provided personal funding for community projects in Bhamra and nearby region.[24]


Kanaan was interviewed in September 2005 by a United Nations team led by Detlev Mehlis, as a "witness", probing the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.[25] Kanaan however denied any involvement in the assassination. In the phone interview he gave to the Lebanese radio station Voice of Lebanon on the day of his death, he said, "I think this is the last statement I might give."[4][25]

Syrian interior ministry and other officials reported that Kanaan died in a Damascus hospital of a gunshot wound to the head on 12 October 2005.[25][26] After a one-day examination, Syrian authorities closed the case, Prosecutor Muhammad al-Luaji stating:

"Examination of the body and fingerprints as well as testimony from employees, including senior aide General Walid Abaza, indicated that it was a suicide by gunshot"

It was suggested that he was in fact murdered by the Syrian government, and various theories explaining the possible motives for this have been put forth. For instance, Kanaan's death is seen as a move to cut a key connection to the alleged Syrian participation in the assassination of Rafik Hariri.[27] Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who had been variously allied and hostile to Kanaan during his stay in Lebanon, commented by saying that if Ghazi Kanaan was in fact linked to the Hariri assassination, then he was a "brave man" who "did well, if I may say, by committing suicide". There was another argument: Kanaan was in touch with Abdel Halim Khaddam and Hikmat Shihabi and they were planning a coup against Bashar Assad.[28]

It is argued that his death was widely blamed on the Assad government among the Alawite community. This belief led to further dissolution of Alawite ‘asabiyya'. At his funeral, mourners shouted, “Why did you kill him?".[24]

In November 2006, Kanaan's brother also committed suicide.[29]


  1. ^ "Against all neighbors" (PDF). Gloria Center. Retrieved 15 January 2013.
  2. ^ a b c Joffe, Lawrence (18 October 2005). "Major-General Ghazi Kanaan". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Bar, Shmuel (2006). "Bashar's Syria: The Regime and its Strategic Worldview" (PDF). Institute for Policy and Strategy. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Syrian minister 'commits suicide'". BBC. 12 October 2005. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Death of a minister". Al Ahram Weekly. 20–26 October 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d Nassif, Daniel (January 2000). "Major General Ghazi Kanaan". Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. 2 (1). Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  7. ^ Mugraby, Muhamad (July 2008). "The syndrome of one-time exceptions and the drive to establish the proposed Hariri court". Mediterranean Politics. 13 (2): 171–194. doi:10.1080/13629390802127513. S2CID 153915546. Pdf. Archived 12 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b William Harris (19 July 2012). Lebanon: A History, 600-2011. Oxford University Press. p. 262. ISBN 978-0-19-518111-1. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  9. ^ Magnus Ranstorp (15 January 1997). Hizb'allah in Lebanon: The Politics of the Western Hostage Crisis. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-312-16491-1. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  10. ^ a b F. Salloukh, Bassel (September 2006). "The Limits of Electoral Engineering in Divided Societies: Elections in Postwar Lebanon". Canadian Journal of Political Science. 39 (3): 635–655. doi:10.1017/s0008423906060185. JSTOR 25165996. S2CID 154975167.
  11. ^ Rabil, Robert G (6 June 2009). "Lebanon at the crossroads". Lebanon Wire. Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  12. ^ Knudsen, Are (2005). "Precarious peacebuilding: Post-war Lebanon, 1990-2005" (PDF). CMI Working Paper. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  13. ^ Hodeib, Mirella (11 April 2013). "Syrian influence steadily declining". The Daily Star. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  14. ^ Gambill, Gary C. (October 2002). "Sponsoring Terrorism: Syria and Hamas". Middle East Intelligence Bulletin. 4 (10). Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  15. ^ Michael Young (12 October 2002). "The long goodbye". The Daily Star. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  16. ^ Harris, William (Summer 2005). "Bashar al-Assad's Lebanon Gamble". Middle East Quarterly. XII (3): 33–44. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  17. ^ a b "Major cabinet reshuffle announced in Syria". Albawaba. 4 October 2004. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  18. ^ "Syrian minister kills himself after UN quiz". ITP. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  19. ^ Prados, Alfred B. (22 June 2006). "Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues". Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  20. ^ McCarthy, Rory (13 October 2005). "Embattled Syrian minister found dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  21. ^ "Obituary: Ghazi Kanaan". BBC. 12 October 2005. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  22. ^ "Syrian minister kills himself after UN quiz". ITP News. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  23. ^ Shadid, Anthony (31 October 2005). "Death of Syrian Minister Leaves A Sect Adrift in Time of Strife". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  24. ^ a b Goldsmith, Leon (July 2011). "Syria's Alawites and the Politics of Sectarian Insecurity: A Khaldunian Perspective" (PDF). Ortadoğu Etütleri (Middle East Research). 3 (1): 33–60. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 December 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  25. ^ a b c "Syrian minister commits suicide". CNN. 13 October 2005. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  26. ^ Mallat, Chibli. Lebanon's Cedar Revolution An essay on non-violence and justice (PDF). Mallat. p. 122. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2012.
  27. ^ Calderon, Horacio. "Winds of War in the Levant and Middle East The Hariri and AMIA cases" (Working Papers 14). CAEI. Retrieved 20 July 2012.[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ Lasensky, Scott; Mona Yacoubian (December 2005). "Syria and political change" (PDF). USIPeace Briefing. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  29. ^ Raad, Omar (2 December 2006). "Connecting the dots in Lebanon". Ya Libnan. Archived from the original on 4 May 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
Political offices
Preceded by
Interior Minister
Succeeded by