Posted by Joshua on Sunday, July 8th, 2012
Syrian General Defects, Heads To France As Assad’s Opponents Meet There
NPR – Heard on All Things Considered
July 6, 2012 – ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
More now on that defection of a Syrian general. Not just any general, but Brigadier General Manaf Tlass. He’s the son of a former Syrian defense minister, Mustafa Tlass. It’s a Sunni Muslim family and one that is close to the ruling Assad family.
How important is this? Well, we’re going to ask Professor Joshua Landis, who’s a Syria expert who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He’s joining us from Norman.
Welcome back to the program.
JOSHUA LANDIS: Good to be with you, Robert.
SIEGEL: What does it say here that Brigadier General Manaf Tlass has defected?
LANDIS: It’s very important. The Tlass family is a keystone of the Sunni Alawite alliance that’s been the bedrock of this regime for 40 years. The fact that they have bailed out says that this regime is falling apart and the essential alliances are falling apart. Increasingly, this struggle is becoming one of sectarian communities, the Alawites against the Sunnis.
In the beginning, this was – it seemed like – angry young men from the countryside. The Sunnis were low class. They were from rural districts. They had nothing to lose. For a long time, everybody has been saying, where’s the Sunni elite? How come they’re not defecting? Well, here is, you know, Mr. Sunni elite defecting.
SIEGEL: Now, there is a declaration of defection that’s posted on your website. You say it’s impossible to verify, but it looks reasonable. And, in it, Tlass says, I call for all my comrades in the armed forces, whatever their rank, who are dragged into this fight against their fellow Syrians and against their own ideas to stop supporting this regime. Would you expect others to follow him?
LANDIS: I do. I think that this sends a signal that Bashar al-Assad doesn’t have the confidence of his top generals. The place is falling apart. Everybody’s going to begin looking for the exit. The problem is that Manaf Tlass is a man of great wealth. His family has got power. He can take a golden parachute and land in Paris. He’s fine. Most generals in the Syrian army don’t have much money. They don’t have bodyguards. They don’t have a way out. They can’t get their families out and Manaf is able to get his wife out. His brother and father got out before him. His sister is out. His son, we believe, was at AUB, the American University in Beirut. He has been able to really manage this exit very gracefully.
SIEGEL: Manaf Tlass also wrote in that declaration of defection, I was – I’m quoting from the translation – “progressively dismissed from my place of duty in the armed forces.” That suggests that his misgivings about what the regime was doing were known to his superiors and it implies that there is at least some kind of debate that’s been going on among senior officers, doesn’t it?
LANDIS: It does. And friends who’ve recently been with him in Damascus, had dinner with him, say he that he was very bitter. He had been given the task of trying to bring Harasta and Duma, two neighborhoods of Damascus in the suburbs that had led this revolutionary process to heal. And he had gone out to the opposition. He talked with them. He got them to back off, but he also negotiated this and agreed that the regime would back off.
The regime center said, we’re not going to do it this way. They came down like a ton of bricks, breaking heads and we’ve seen the violence that’s ensued. And, in a sense, the people like Tlass, who were looking for a softer landing for the regime, got pushed aside. And he was sidelined. That’s the word and that’s certainly the word he’s putting out and bitter about it.
SIEGEL: Professor Landis, would Manaf Tlass strike Syrian opposition forces as either a possible leader of their cause or a transitional leader or is he too deeply associated with the old regime to be a credible leader of a new one?
LANDIS: You know, the opposition, I’m sure, are all celebrating. This is an important crack in the regime, but there is going to be tons of bitterness against him. This family has been an architect of this regime. They’re not going to embrace him.
There are others. Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who defected in 2005 and joined the Muslim Brotherhood. That fell apart. And there’s Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of the present president of Syria, who is also in Paris, but none of them have been embraced by the opposition. In fact, they’ve been forbidden to come to opposition meetings, so I think the Tlass family, although people will be very happy to see the regime crumbling, they’re going to have a very hard time ingratiating themselves with the opposition.
SIEGEL: Professor Landis, thanks for talking with us once again.
LANDIS: Well, it’s my pleasure. Thank you.
SIEGEL: Joshua Landis, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
Clinton: Assad’s fall is certain
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed reports Friday that a high-level general had defected from Syria.
Why Russia Supports Syria – New York Times
Report in Arabic about FSA fighters in Turkey – how they cross the border and fight. Reporter interviews (video) FSA sharpshooter who explains how he shoots at anyone from certain Idlib border villages because they are “all regime loyalists” .
A Young Syrian’s Evolution From a Carefree Tour Guide to a Revolutionary
By ANNE BARNARD: July 7, 2012 – New York Times
… Abu Zeid and several friends took up arms after security officers shot demonstrators in Tadmur, the modern town near Palmyra. Now, alternately passionate and confused, Abu Zeid has only the dimmest idea of an endgame, swept up in a wave heading nowhere clear.
He wavers, unsure whether joining the revolt was his life’s proudest moment or its ruin — or both.
His exploits, sometimes more Keystone Kops than Che Guevara, left him feeling empowered but morally conflicted. He stole money and weapons, something he struggles to justify to himself. He endangered his neighbors, beat up an informer and narrowly escaped a raid that killed some of his friends after one drew attention to their hide-out by getting stuck in an elevator. Even his beloved camel ended up dead.
Now he is a jobless fugitive in a country bordering Syria, heartsick for a life in which, he said, “I felt like a king in my own way.
Like someone who grew up near the sea and is drawn to water, Abu Zeid spends hours visiting ancient ruins, quizzing people about his new country’s tourist industry. He worries that unrest will harm his family, or Palmyra’s antiquities. One moment he vows to go back and fight; the next he disavows violence.
“I hate my life this way,” he told a friend in a recent message….. In a recent meeting, he and one fellow fighter spoke little about democracy, offering no opinion on who or what should replace Mr. Assad. They said they acted in solidarity with the dead, and “for dignity.” … Recently, Abu Zeid received a French visa. He will be safe in his girlfriend’s mountain village, but he is vaulting further into the unknown.
BBC News reports: Sources close to Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, who met him days before he deserted, told the BBC he was very angry about what was happening in Syria and accused the regime of “taking the country to Hell”. “If I were him, I would have done an [former Turkish leader and political reformer […]
Newsweek: Champagne Flows While Syria Burns
By the pool, glistening, oiled, and muscular bodies gyrated to a juiced-up version of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Atop huge speakers, a Russian dancer swayed suggestively in front of the young, beautiful Syrian set drinking imported Lebanese ….
Considering a Palace Coup in Syria
Stratfor – July 5, 2012 |
Summary: Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime has maintained its hold on power amid escalating violence and international criticism over the past year. However, pressure on the regime could eventually increase to a point that other members of the inner circle may attempt to supplant the al Assad clan. This small group of elites could even receive backing from Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran. While such a coup scenario appears unlikely at present, the threats the al Assad clan faces from within the regime are at least as serious as the threats from external powers or the opposition.
Analysis: Though the al Assad family is the public face of the Syrian regime and controls some of its most important positions, the regime also comprises other Alawites as well as Christians, Druze, other religious minorities and members of the country’s Sunni majority. This inner circle includes Syria’s most powerful and experienced political, military and civilian leaders, and these individuals view their own survival as tied to the fate of the regime. However, if al Assad began to lose his ability to hold together the disparate elements that form the Syrian regime, a group of regime elites could try to stage a palace coup and forcibly remove the family from power.
Another potential scenario involves coordination with external parties, likely Iran and Russia, both of which have deep intelligence networks in Syria. Although Iran and Russia provide significant financial and military backing for al Assad and the Syrian regime, they have contingency plans for a new regime if a power transfer becomes necessary. The imperative for these allies is not to keep the al Assad clan in power but to maintain a government in Syria that will remain friendly to their interests and does not deviate too far from the status quo.
The ability of Syria’s allies to engineer a coup is questionable. Moreover, a coup is unlikely at present because the regime does not show external signs of cracking and still possesses a largely united military and intelligence apparatus. However, if the situation calls for such action, Iran and Russia will work to maintain the overall structure of the regime. This could be pursued by brokering an official power transfer between al Assad and other top members of the regime, similar to the power transfer in Yemen. Because al Assad clan members are at the core of the president’s inner circle, his close family would likely not be welcome to join the putative new government.
If al Assad were removed from the inside with or without foreign backing, key Sunni figures and allied minorities in the current regime would likely take over leadership. A more inclusive and diverse regime could use its sectarian composition to quell some of the opposition while still maintaining the overall regime structure and avoiding a power vacuum that could lead to greater instability.
Of the minority inner circle members, some of the most prominent include the heads of Syria’s four intelligence agencies: Jamil Hassan, Abdel-Fatah Qudsiyeh, Ali Mamlouk and Muhammad Deeb Zaitoon. Aside from these intelligence leaders, an important minority leader to watch is Hisham Bakhtiar, a Shi’i in charge of the National Security Council who serves as a security and intelligence adviser to al Assad.
Prominent Sunni figures who could play a role in a post-al Assad government include Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, commander of the elite Republican Guard forces Manaf Tlas, army Chief of Staff Fahd Jasem al-Farij and Assistant Regional Secretary of the Baath Arab Socialist Party Muhammad Said Bukhaytan.
Profiled below are figures with experience in managing the security and intelligence affairs of the state, and all except Bashar al Assad’s close relatives could emerge as members of a new regime in the event of a palace coup or negotiated power transfer.
Minority Members of al Assad’s Inner Circle
Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Assef Shawkat (Alawite)
- Considered one of al Assad’s top security chiefs
- Formerly head of military intelligence and deputy chief of staff.
- Joined the army in the late 1970s
- The regime is rumored to hold him partly responsible for failing to prevent the 2008 assassination of Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyah
- Married to al Assad’s sister, Bushra
- Maintains close relationship with Bashar but has a more difficult relationship with his Bashar’s brother, Maher al Assad
Shabiha leader Namir al Assad (Alawite)
- Bashar al Assad’s cousin
- One of the top leaders of Shabiha, the Syrian mercenary force frequently used in crackdowns against the opposition
The Republican Guard and 4th Armored Division head Maher al Assad (Alawite)
- Bashar al Assad’s youngest brother
- Rumored to be Syria’s second-most powerful man
- Longtime member of the Syrian military and a member of the Baath Party’s second highest body, the Central Committee
- Known for his use of brute force
- Allegedly shot Shawkat in the stomach in 1999
- Commands the most elite and loyal forces
General Security Directorate head in Damascus Col. Hafez Makhlouf (Alawite)
- Cousin and childhood friend of Bashar al Assad, close friend of Maher al Assad
- Survivor of the 1994 car crash that killed the president’s brother, Basil
Deputy Vice President for Security Affairs Muhammad Nasif Kheirbek (Alawite)
- Member of the Kalabiya tribe, the same Alawite tribe as the president
- Connected to the al Assad family through his marriage to one of the daughters of former President Hafez al Assad’s brother, Rifaat al Assad
- Adviser and ally to Bashar al Assad
- Former head of the General Security Directorate, the civilian intelligence service
Rami Makhlouf (Alawite)
- Bashar al Assad’s first cousin and Hafez Makhlouf’s brother
- One of the most powerful businessmen in Syria
- Owns a wide variety of companies, including the Syriatel communications company, and is involved in many foreign companies’ business deals within Syria
- Allegedly uses much of the income from his business dealings to aid the regime’s suppression of Syrian protests and rebel forces
Air Force Intelligence head Gen. Jamil Hassan (Alawite)
Military Intelligence head Abdel-Fatah Qudsiyeh (Alawite)
- Added to the EU sanctions list in May 2011 for the Military Intelligence’s role in the crackdown on the Syrian opposition
- Former head of the Air Force Intelligence, personal secretary to al Assad and head of the Republican Guard’s security office
- Led the investigation on Mughniyah’s assassination
Political Security Directorate head Muhammad Deeb Zaitoon (Alawite)
- Added to the EU sanctions list in May 2011 for the Political Security Directorate’s role in the suppression of protesters
- Former deputy head of the General Security Directorate
- Assisted in the investigation of Mughniyah’s assassination
Syrian General Intelligence Directorate head Ali Mamlouk (Alawite)
- Former deputy head of Air Force Intelligence
- Close ties with the Political Security Directorate
- Was placed on the U.S. sanctions list in April 2011 for human rights abuses and the use of violence against civilians
- The General Intelligence Directorate has allegedly used deadly force when cracking down on anti-government protesters
- His religion is disputed because Syrian authorities have at times presented him as a Sunni from Rif Damascus
Presidential Security chief Gen. Dhu al-Himma Shalish (Alawite)
- Al Assad’s first cousin
- Formerly served as al Assad’s personal bodyguard
- Allegedly provided military resources to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime
Special Forces Commander Gen. Juma al-Ahmad (Alawite)
- Placed on the German sanctions list in December 2011 for violence against peaceful protesters
- Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Dawoud Rajiha (Christian)
- Former chief of staff and deputy chief of staff for the Syrian army
- Artillery specialist in the military academy
- His inclusion in the inner circle is considered to be politically motivated, rather than merit-based, in order to garner the support of the Christian minority
National Security Council head Maj. Gen. Hisham Bakhtiar (Shiite)
- Provides security and intelligence advice directly to al Assad
- Former head of the General Security Directorate
- The United States accused him of funding terrorist organizations
- Added to EU sanctions list for Daraa crackdown in May 2011
Sunni Members of al Assad’s Inner Circle:
Interior Minister Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar
- Former chief of the military police in Aleppo, director of Sednaya Prison and appointed interior minister during the 2011 unrest
- Joined armed forces in 1971
- Reportedly maintains a good relationship with the Alawites and also has contacts with members of the Sunni-led rebel insurgency
- The regime has deliberately allowed al-Shaar to maintain contact with some armed opposition groups to secure knowledge of their activities and to have a conduit for dialogue
- Rumored to have secured safe exit for anti-al Assad militant groups
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Fahd Jasem al-Farij
- Former deputy chief of staff of the Syrian army
- From Hama, ethnically BedouinAllegedly appointed to his current post in order to appease residents of Hama after the crackdown in mid-20
Vice President Farouk al-Shara
- Member of the Baath Party Regional Committee since 2000
- Some believe his position is more symbolic and that unlike other inner circle members, he has not played a large role in quelling the uprising
- Joined the Syrian army in 1954
- Ethnically Turkish and reportedly anti-Arab
- Believed to be one of al Assad’s strategists
Republican Guard Commander Brig. Manaf Tlas
- Son of former Defense Minister Gen. Mustafa Tlas and brother-in-law to Shawkat
- Considered one of al Assad’s closest friends and helped al Assad develop a support base among the Sunni merchant class.
- Commands a battalion of the Alawite-dominated Republican Guard and is a member of the Baath Party Central Committee.
Air Force head Gen. Isam Hallaq
- Not viewed as powerful enough to restore law and order to Syria, despite his position
Military Intelligence chief in Damascus Rustum Ghazali
- Former chief of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon and reportedly wielded great influence in Lebanese internal affairs
- Placed on the EU sanctions list in May 2011 for the repression of the opposition in Syria
Baath Arab Socialist Party Assistant Regional Secretary Muhammad Said Bukhaytan
- Served as the assistant regional secretary of the Baath Arab Socialist Party since 2005
- Former director for the national security of the regional Baath Party and Hama governor from 1998 to 2000
- Considered a close associate of Bashar and Maher al Assad and a high-level decision-maker in the regime
Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Munir Adanov
- Deputy chief of staff and commander of the regular army’s military campaign in Rastan, where several crackdowns have occurred
- Reportedly accompanied al Assad on several high-level foreign visits
- Placed on the EU sanctions list in August 2011 for his direct involvement in the repression and use of violence against the civilian population in Syria
The tide begins to turn
Diplomacy is being overtaken by the armed struggle. But on both scores, Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, is steadily losing ground
Jul 7th 2012 | BEIRUT AND CAIRO | Economist
…. the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the main group of armed rebel factions, shunned a subsequent meeting of Mr Assad’s opponents in Cairo on July 1st. The Syrian Revolution General Commission, the leading network of political activists inside Syria, left early in a huff. The biggest such event to date, it was intended to forge a common blueprint for the wider opposition and to give at least the impression of unity. But the factions from within Syria suspected that exile groups were seeking to curry favour with foreign diplomats and donors by endorsing the Geneva plan at the expense of the revolution that they are battling to expand back home.
The Cairo meeting did not mention the Geneva document but instead issued a vague set of constitutional principles, along with its own plan for a transitional government. Moreover, the intended show of unity was marred by rows over the composition of a joint committee to follow things up. Representatives of the Kurds, who make up around 15% of Syrians, walked out in protest against being termed an ethnic group rather than a people, and some left-wingers and secularists reiterated charges against the Syrian National Council, the largest exile group, that it was dominated by Islamists (in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood) and beholden to such foreign backers as Turkey, Qatar and the CIA.
For his part, Mr Assad had upped the ante on June 26th by announcing for the first time that Syria was indeed “at war”, decreeing new laws to punish his opponents (all lumped together as “terrorists”). State television broadcast a call for soldiers to seek “martyrdom” in service to the fatherland. His government voiced tepid approval of the Geneva plan, but as with Mr Annan’s previous plan, which it formally accepted but largely ignored in practice, suggested that its opponents should first drop their weapons.
This is not going to happen. The military pressure against Mr Assad is mounting. Day by day, town by town, the balance of power seesaws between the regime’s forces and its loosely organised but increasingly better-armed opponents. But the tide is running against Mr Assad. In the hilly north-western province of Idleb, almost incessant shelling by government forces has not prevented rebels from keeping de facto control over swathes of territory, including parts of the border with Turkey which is 900km (560 miles) long…..
…He added “if the regime was subject to a single [foreign] air strike, this would save a lot of lives in Syria. This has become an international humanitarian crisis, and it is clear that what is happening in Syria is the result of the blatant Russian and Iranian interference, supporting the al-Assad regime with ammunition and manpower, not to mention the Hezbollah mercenaries…so what is wrong with international intervention?”
ANKARA – Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview published on Thursday that he would have been toppled long ago like the shah of Iran if his people did not support him. “Everybody was calculating that I would fall in a small amount of …
For Washington and the Syrian opposition, then, the key in the coming weeks will be to leverage Tlass’ defection to foment a decisive fissure in the military. While Tlass may not hold the key to Syria’s future, if properly handled, he could help close a gruesome chapter of Syria’s past.
Egypt on the path of Turkey in the 80s – Reuters
The power play since Mubarak’s overthrow suggests Egypt is moving steadily towards a Turkey-style accommodation between a powerful army and an Islamist movement that gradually shifts its people into the institutions of government.
Egyptian General Mamdouh Shahin said there was no question that the army would decide the future balance of power.
“The constitutional decree remains the exclusive authority of the military council. Nothing will change this,” he told Reuters, adding that, for now, the army would act as a balance between the government and the president.…
Sunni Islamism Stirs In Lebanon
By Jonathan Spyer in GLORIA
As the civil war in Syria grinds on and assumes an increasingly sectarian character, echoes of the strife are being heard across the border in Lebanon. The main beneficiary of the Arab uprisings of the last year has been Sunni Islamism. In Syria, Sunnis are playing an increasingly important role in the rebellion against President Bashar Assad. In […]