A Senior Military Defection in Syria?

A Senior Military Defection in Syria?

Following up on Daniel’s post on the escalating violence in Syria earlier today, one potentially highly important development in the Syrian saga has gotten little media coverage or comment, but should.

It is being reported that a top Syrian military officer, Colonel Riyad al-Asad, has defected from the regime, and is setting up a “Free Syrian Army whose main goal will be to fight the army of oppression headed by President Bashar Assad“. In a video in which he is flanked by seven other Syrian army officers,

Al-Asad called on whom he described as “the Syrian Army’s many honorable officers, non-commissioned officers, and men” to “immediately defect from the army, stop pointing their rifles at their people’s chests, join the free army, and form a national army that can protect the revolution and all sections of the Syrian people with all their sects.”

The Arabic video, without subtitles, is here.

Why is this potentially very important? Because according to most knowledgeable Syria-watchers, probably the only way the regime of Bashar al-Assad can fall is if he loses the loyalty of major portions of the armed forces. But thiis hasn’t been happening on any large scale so far.

As Israeli academic expert on Syria Prof. Moshe Maoz puts it in the just-posted August edition of the Australia/Israel Review:

As long as the Syrian President commands the loyalty of his top brass and ethnic Alawite, Druze and Christian minorities, he has all the time he needs to brutally reassert control…
While there are signs of defections among middle-level officers and army rank and file, there is no organised opposition beyond the amorphous dissidents working through social networks…

But Col. Riyad al-Asad and his Free Syrian Army may – or may not – be the beginning of that reality changing, as it probably has to if the mass popular protest movement is to succeed.

Meanwhile, another knowledgable and insightful piece on how the US and allied governments can ramp up the pressure on the Assad regime comes from Michael S. Doran and Salman Shaikh of the Brookings Institute in Washington.

Tzvi Fleischer