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Mossad took urine sample from Assad
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv

Mossad milestones
AS THE Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations ground on this weekend, details
emerged of extraordinary measures taken by Mossad, the Israeli secret
service, to gauge the health of the ailing President Hafez al-

Assad of Syria. Sources claim agents took a urine sample from the
unsuspecting president last year as he visited a secure lavatory during the
funeral of Jordan's King Hussein.

The mission was a product of well-established co-operation between Mossad and
the Jordanian secret service, both of which regard Syria with extreme

Despite this enmity - Syria attempted to invade Jordan in 1970 - Assad, who
rarely leaves his country, decided to fly the 150 miles south from Damascus
to pay his respects in Amman when Hussein died last February.

For the Jordanians and Mossad, it was a surprise and a golden opportunity. In
July 1998, Mossad was said to have used a Jewish doctor to spirit Assad's
medical files from a French hospital where he was undergoing urgent

But its commanders knew that a urine sample could provide biochemical experts
with vital clues in building up a complete picture of the president's health.
This would allow both Israel and Jordan to guess how long he might live, and
to plan foreign policy accordingly.

A special lavatory was prepared for Assad's exclusive use, and when he asked
his bodyguards where it was, the president was led to a room containing what
sources believe was a urinal that led not into a drain, but into a specimen

Shortly afterwards he was on a plane back home while his urine travelled 100
miles west to the Tel Hashomer medical research hospital near Tel Aviv.

A medical file subsequently prepared for Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime
minister, by Mossad and other military intelligence analysts described the
71-year-old president's condition as worsening. It suggested that Assad was
so incapacitated that his working day could be no more than a few hours.

The report detailed how Assad had cancelled a trip to Russia last summer
because of sudden lapses in his health. He also missed the funeral of King
Hassan of Morocco. The Israelis have learnt nothing since to convince them
his condition can improve.

"Assad is hospitalised every couple of months to replace his blood," said Dr
Danny Shoham, the former head of a military intelligence section concerned
with Assad's health. "We know that he suffers from a non-terminal type of
cancer and diabetes, and that he's had a heart attack."

A urine sample would have confirmed the state of Assad's diabetes, and also
indicated any cancer in his urinary tract. More importantly, the Israeli
pathologists and biochemists who analysed the sample would have detected
traces of whatever drugs the president was taking for his litany of ailments.

The latest Israeli assessment is that Assad is living on borrowed time, and
that a potential partner for peace may be lost. His failure to attend the
current talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where Syria is represented by
its foreign minister, has only encouraged the Israelis to strive for a deal.

"We should do everything to reach an agreement while Assad is alive," said a
Barak aide. "Nobody knows what will happen after Assad. There are some gloomy
assessments about a possible bloodbath in Syria. Assad is a man you can trust
to stand by his word."

The Shepherdstown talks resumed this weekend with delegates studying a
seven-page "working document" given to them by President Bill Clinton as a
possible route towards a land-for-peace treaty.

The talks had been briefly postponed for the Jewish sabbath and the end of
the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but James Rubin, a State Department
spokesman, said it was still hoped that the first round of negotiations would
be concluded this week.

"We are moving down the track," he said, echoing the view expressed by
Clinton, who described the negotiations as "very hard stuff". Barak and
Farouk al-Sharaa, the Syrian foreign minister, are working on a proposal that
Israel should give up the Golan Heights in return for security guarantees.

However, Israel is concerned about the timetable for withdrawal of its forces
from Golan, and about the future of water resources that are vital for
agriculture in northern Israel.

Its long-term preoccupation over Syria is the maverick behaviour of Assad's
younger brother Rifaat, who, despite recent setbacks, is still said to relish
the prospect of seizing power. He first tried to engineer a coup in 1983 and
was thrown into exile in Marbella and Paris.

Last year Assad's son Bashar crushed his uncle's supporters in his power
base, the private port of Latakia, but the Israelis believe Rifaat will
reappear when the president dies.

How much Assad himself wants a deal is open to question. The last time he was
seen by any senior Israeli officials was at the Hussein funeral. "He stood a
few metres from us, without showing the slightest desire to meet," said Ezer
Weizman, the Israeli president.

Mossad, meanwhile, has played down its surveillance of Assad, with sources
describing the collection of his urine as a routine operation for a special
unit known as Keshet.

"There is not a foreign embassy anywhere in the world that we do not 'visit'
at night, friendly or unfriendly alike. Keshet is trained for that," said one
former agent. "Medical records, computers, they are all targets for our
activity, almost on a weekly basis."

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