The Syria uprising entered a dramatic new phase with today’s killing in a bomb attack in the heart of Damascus of at least four of President Bashar al-Assad's top security aides.
They are Defense Minister Gen. Daoud Rajha; his deputy Assef Shawkat (who is Assad's brother-in-law); former defense minister and current Assistant Vice President Hassan Turkmani; and Hafez Makhlouf, head of Intelligence Agency investigations and brother of business tycoon Rami Makhlouf.
Several security officials were also seriously wounded in the attack, including Intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar and Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar.
The attack on the headquarters of Syria's National Security Council in the Rawda area is a deadly blow to the heart of the regime after two recent high-level defections – by Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Faris, and a Republican Guard general, Manaf Tlass.
News of the devastating blow to Assad’s regime broke while I was working on the post below. For a while, I thought the post has probably been overtaken by events.
I doubt, but I leave it to the reader to judge:
|Manaf Tlass (right) with Hafez and Bashar al-Assad|
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) oversaw the transition in Egypt from Hosni Mubarak to Mohamed Morsy.
Would world powers refine the SCAF template and choose a body of senior officers in the Syrian military to oversee a Syria transition plan?
If so, would Brig-Gen. Manaf Tlass, a Sunnite member of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle and commander of one of Syria’s elite Republic Guard units who moved to France earlier this month, turn into Syria’s Hussein Tantawi?
Tlass yesterday called for a political transition in Syria and condemned military attacks on civilians in a statement sent to AFP.
Expressing anger that security forces were being used to suppress dissent, he said the regime held “the major responsibility” for the crisis and confirmed he was in Paris.
“I sincerely hope the blood stops flowing and the country emerges from the crisis through a phase of constructive transition that guarantees Syria its unity, stability and security, as well as the aspirations of its people,” said Tlass, a childhood friend of Assad.
“I am ready like any other Syrian, with no other ambition, to fulfill my civic duty to contribute to a better future for my country, as much as I can, and like all those... who have already made many sacrifices,” he said.
However, he did not specifically call for Assad to step down or say he was joining the Syrian opposition.
“I cannot but express my anger and pain at seeing the army pushed to carry out a fight that is against its principles, a fight directed by security forces and in which the people, including the soldiers, are the victims,” he said.
“When I took a position and refused to take part in the security action, I was isolated, accused and even labeled a traitor,” he said. “But my conscience, my deep conviction, pushed me to challenge this destructive action and to distance myself.”
Tlass said in the statement sent to AFP: “Faithful to my country and my beliefs, I always tried over the past 18 months to do my duty, unfortunately without success. I was not complacent with the regime, I did not accept nor participate in an action that led the country to its current tragic situation.”
Writing for today’s edition of the Lebanese pro-Assad daily al-Akhbar, Nasser Sharara gives an invaluable insight into the reasons behind Tlass’ flight to France.
My synopsis of Sharara’s 1,700-word account:
To this day, the way Manaf Tlass left Damascus remains a mystery to the Syrian security services.
He may have left via Lebanon. What is certain is that on the day news broke of Manaf having left Syria, his wife and young son who were in Beirut were driven by “M.H.” to Rafik Hariri International airport. There, they boarded a flight to Paris under their real names: “Tala Ahmad Khair (maiden name of Manaf’s wife) and (her son) Ahmed Manaf Tlass.”
In Damascus, however, officials still have reservations about calling Manaf a “traitor.” It seems “they’re still betting on keeping him close to President Assad whether he returns to Syria or stays abroad.”
Manaf did not break with Assad. He kept saying his clash was with the security services bigwigs who had Assad’s ear.
He complained to visitors, “The three closest persons to the late Hafez Assad were Sunnites. With the president now, I rank ninth.”
Manaf’s disaffection was with “the political solution saboteurs.” Media reports that he sulked at home after taking off his military uniform are false. Even when slamming “spoilers” in the security services, he kept turning out at his office in the presidential palace and at the headquarters of Presidential Guard Unit #105, which he commanded.
Throughout his disaffection, Manaf remained in contact and on good terms with Assad, whom he always addressed as “Boss.” He also kept repeating, “I can play the role of a go-between, connecting the Sunnite opposition in particular with President Assad. I played that role before. The Boss mandated me earlier to do just that. But opponents of a political solution sabotaged my task for fear of losing their vested interests in case a settlement is reached. That’s why I bowed out.”
In early 2012, Manaf got wind of a Moscow-backed suggestion by world stakeholders to solve the Syria crisis by a agreeing a mixed military council to oversee a political transition. The council would consist of officers from the various sects and mirror Egypt’s SCAF. People who heard him discuss this felt he was thrilled by the idea, “perhaps because he was promised a key role in the council.”