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Syria: who’s going to jump next? (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By AMIR TAHERI 08/07/12)Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/syria_who_going_to_jump_next_UWM9m0G62hnForTtsp2SuM NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Who will jump next? In the wake of Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab’s defection, that’s the question making the rounds in Damascus.

Hijab, a high official of the ruling Ba’ath Party, had headed several ministries before being asked by President Bashar al-Assad to lead the government. The highest-ranking political figure to defect so far, he has appealed to other top officials to “abandon this murderous and terrorist regime.”

His spokesman, Muhammad Otri, said Hijab decided to jump ship after failing to persuade Assad to “stop the massacre of Syrian people.”

“As prime minister, Mr. Hijab had worked out a plan to find a political solution to the nation’s tragedy,” Otri said in a phone conversation yesterday. “He became persuaded that Assad can’t change his nature and that Syria must turn a page.”

It’s unclear what Hijab’s “political solution” was, but Otri claimed both Russia and Iran had been informed of its content and vetoed it, insisting on continuation of the “iron fist” strategy to crush the popular uprising.

Iran’s opposition to the plan was relayed to Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem during a visit to Tehran last week. But now Syrian sources claim that Muallem (a former ambassador to Washington) may well be the next senior official to defect.

Accompanied by two Cabinet ministers, the defecting prime minister has told Jordanian officials that more officials wish to defect but are concerned about family members they’d have to leave behind.

So far, eight Cabinet ministers and 19 members of parliament have joined the uprising, along with other high-ranking defectors, such as former Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam.

The largest number to come over are military. So far, 13 generals, including Assad’s childhood friend Manaf Tlas, have switched sides. Twenty-two midranking officers have also defected, along with more than 30,000 NCOs and conscripts. The latest high-profile military defector is Col. Yaarab Sharaa, who headed the Security Office for Damascus.

At least 12 diplomats have changed sides, including five ambassadors, with more expected soon. According to Syrian sources, some ambassadors — including Assad’s man at the United Nations, Bashar al- Jaafari — are awaiting the outcome of the battle for Aleppo before jumping ship.

Also reportedly on the brink: Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil and Finance Minister Muhammad Jalilati.

Syrian sources claim that even the Defense Minister Oman Ghalawanji, the general named as caretaker prime minister yesterday, may be having second thoughts about Assad’s strategy of rule by massacre.

Ghalawanji’s appointment underlines the fact that the Assad regime may have lost its civilian tentacles, depending on what is left of the military and security for survival. That, however, is a classical Syrian recipe for a military coup.

Since its creation as a state in the 1940s, Syria has experienced at least six military coups that followed popular revolts. But this time the uprising is of such a magnitude that nothing short of full regime change may be able to bring it under control.

Fearing a coup, Assad has divided the ground forces into three separate commands, making it difficult for the top brass to act in unison. He’s also keeping the air force and the navy under his direct command, possibly as part of a Plan B for seizing control of the coastal area around Tartus and transforming it into a mini-state for his Alawite community.

Assad’s mini-state could seek protection from the Russian aero-naval base in Tartus as well as from a nearby outpost of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Yet, in their coverage of the Syrian crisis yesterday, even Russian and Iranian propaganda injected a note of doubt about Assad’s chances of survival.

The head of Iran’s High Council of National Security, Saeed Jalili, arrived in Beirut yesterday with “new ideas” on how to handle the crisis. He will preside over a meeting of Hezbollah leaders to discuss the group’s participation in “protecting the Resistance Front in Syria.” That ambiguous phrase has replaced Tehran’s previous mantra about “defending President Assad against terrorist enemies.”

Unable to travel to Damascus, Jalili is to meet an emissary of Assad in Beirut to deliver a message from Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. (Copyright 2011 NYP Holdings, Inc. 08/07/12)


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