Syria defections continue, but significance in question
Syrian rebels prepare to advance into the Salaheddin district in the northern city of Aleppo to fight against forces loyal to the government on August 4, 2012.
August 7th, 2012
01:00 AM ET

Syria defections continue, but significance in question

By Jill Dougherty and Jamie Crawford

As news broke Monday that Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab had defected, the U.S. State Department said it was "encouraged," describing Hijab as the "highest-profile official to defect from the Assad regime."

"When the prime minister of the entire government defects, that's clearly an indication that they're on the way out," acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

But experts on Syria aren't so sure.

"The prime minister in Syria is the head of the government, but the government in Syria doesn't rule the country," Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told CNN. "It's the regime, and the regime includes the security services, the army and the members of the Assad family."

Hijab's defection is "politically significant," Tabler believes, because it shows "political erosion" in the government.

"But it's still not a core member of the regime," he said, pointing to the fact that President Bashar al-Assad's regime is comprised of minority Alawites, while Hijab is a Sunni.

Aram Nerguizian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agrees.

"The lack of any meaningful leadership defections from the Alawite sector of the regime is very distressing," Nerguizian told CNN's Security Clearance blog.

Sunni defections have not weakened the regime's inner core, he said, "which feels even more threatened, even more concerned, even more paranoid."

Al-Assad's inner core, Tabler said, includes about 14 people - from the president's brother and sister to the heads of various security agencies, from military chiefs and others whom the United States and the European Union have blamed for carrying out attacks on the Syrian people.

So far, says Nerguizian said, the Alawite core of the Baath party and the ruling regime are sticking with al-Assad "whether they like it or not ... stuck between a rock and a hard place."

The Alawites, Nerguizian believes, would like to find some way out that would give their community a future in terms of the economy, security and a role in politics, but the rhetoric from extremist segments of the opposition are scaring them.

"They are in survival mode. They aren't exactly at their most rational. ... They look at a defection and say, 'OK, this is a negative development, but we need to hang in there, we need to survive.'"

The result? "This a very, very messy, long-term conflict that becomes increasingly sectarian," Nerguizian said.

Even if al-Assad were to step down, as the United States and its allies are demanding, Obama administration officials agree - things could get very messy indeed.

"If Assad goes, it would depend on who left with him," Tabler said. "If it's just the Assad family and the regime's still intact, that means the regime holds hard."

It's the moderates who are defecting, Nerguizian said. "So you have a future that is increasingly dictated by the extreme on either side."

Assad's leaving is no panacea, these experts warn.

"Even tomorrow, if you have an environment where Assad and his inner circle are no longer in power, even if you had a power sharing arrangement, you are still looking at a Syria that is grappling with its own internal demons for a decade," Nerguizian said.

"It's not just about Assad. All of the politics and socio-economics over the last four to five decades, if not longer, have essentially become unhinged, and no one knows how to put them back together again. So essentially Syria is the Humpty Dumpty of the Middle East."

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Alexander Argentina

    KOBANI, (SANA) – With the backing of armored vehicles and helicopters Turkish military forces crossed the border into Kurdish territory designated by UN decree as sovereign soil.

    On Tuesday more than 100 Turkish troops armed with thermal rockets and sophisticated weaponry were alleged to have entered the town of Cerablos which is a primarily Kurdish inhabited region in Kobani before the contingent of soldiers reportedly returned back to their bases in Turkey after an hour.

    Last week the Turkish Army staged tank exercises in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, just two kilometers away from the Syrian border and many cite this timeline as evidence that Ankara has sinister motives (in concert with NATO) and are becoming a regional security threat by flagrantly violating the rights of neighboring Arab states.

    Such actions have drawn the ire of Turkish political opposition figures, notably the leader of the Republican People's Party who harshly rebuked the Erdogan government 'for its miscalculation of dragging the country into a Middle Eastern quagmire by committing acts of aggression against Syria airspace.'

    Meanwhile, Turkish media is reporting that about 40 Turkish troops have been officially detained inside of Syria, this as spokesmen for Kurdish militias in the border towns of Kobani and Efrin charged Turkish forces with illegally supplying arms and ammunition to armed extremists who are fighting the Syrian government whose President Bashar al-Assad has labeled them "...enemies of the state who being thusly identified as terrorists will be prosecuted under Law No. 22 of 2012, pursuant to the presiding judge."

    This continued breach is corroborated by NBC, a US based news outlet who reported on July 31 that nearly two dozen MANPADs (man-portable air-defense systems) were delivered to individuals inside of Syria via Turkish authorities, an action prohibited and condemned by statute and treaties determined in the United Nations charter which mandates and defines such acts of aggression as state sponsored terrorism.

    The Turkish foreign ministry has flatly denied any reports of a cross-border incursion into Syria.

    August 8, 2012 at 11:04 am | Reply
  2. George Patton

    It's funny how our own economy is lavishing in a depression, roads and bridges are falling into disrepair and our schools and libraries are closing down but yet this government has plenty of money to pay these bozoes to defect!!! This is what we get for electing these right-wing nutjobs into office!

    August 7, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
    • William F. Phuckley

      Yes, because no matter the supposed idealogy of the president or his party, once all is said and done, the man in the oval office does what he is told by those who have the real power. I know that you know this.

      August 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  3. saeed

    if usa and britain love war so much then someone should give them some war nuke britain usa ireland australia new zealand norway sweden and denmark. these people are war mongerers what needed is a 20 megaton nuclear warhead to the head of dublin or sydney. how is usa going to win a war against china when they cant beat the chinese at the olympics in london and thats home terf.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:16 am | Reply
  4. Joseph Zrnchik

    Why can't Syria call on its allies to crush this foreign intervention by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Turkey just like Bahrain called on Saudi intervention to crush their rebels? The rebels in Bahrain were domestic and there was no foreign intervention. Yet, the U.S. gathers jihadists from all across the Middle East and sets up logistical bases in Turkey and now claims it has a R2P responsibility for the choas it created. I agree the U.S. has a responsibility -a responsibility to pay reparations for supporting an invasion using irregular forces who committed war crimes against a sovereign nation. In the immediate crisis, Assad has the right to call on allies to occupy just as the U.S. occupied Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Phillipines, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, Hawaii, Samoa, Korea, Argentina, Chili, Nicaragua, Panama, Turkey, China, Guatemala, Greenland, Netherlands, Iceland, Lebanon, Tailand, Egypt, Cambodia, Zaire, Libya, Italy, Bosnia, Macedonia, Liberia.......ect.

    August 7, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Thank you Joseph, that was well put.

      August 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  5. Roger

    So a Syrian Astronaut joined Al Qaeda .. The sooner we figured out that we are considering (if not already have) joined Al Qaeda the sooner we'll start asking why are we joining forces with the same group of people that murdered 3000 Americans?

    The Insurgency isn't homegrown.. nor is it western inspired... It's straight up Sunni Al Qaeda that is fighting Shia Backed Assad...

    August 7, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
  6. mr mister


    August 7, 2012 at 7:02 am | Reply
  7. the Lord

    Both President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski and President of Syria Bashar al-Assad has been poisoned and isolated by Blosheviks. Both Dimitri Medvedev and Mitt Romney was not informed and whole plot has been directed against them.

    More on Google+:

    August 7, 2012 at 5:46 am | Reply
  8. saeed

    well the reson usa and britain are doing this is because they have lost against china the only thing that remains of usa and britain are 2 bankcrupt loser countrys.

    August 7, 2012 at 5:25 am | Reply
  9. solethu

    hahaha thia article make assad as if he is a king no not king A god of syria as if he command everything like when will syrians take a bath when will the eat who to feed when should they die come on thats pure propaganda assad can not be a government of syria accept to minds of stupud people who can not make sense cnn should report something logical

    August 7, 2012 at 4:56 am | Reply
  10. $teve Obid the dude

    those arabs are only a hundred years behind already > SHEEESH !
    Get those pharkin pharoahs and neanderthal self-appointed emporers out of the way.
    HELLOOOO 00000 oooooooo
    WELCOME to the second millennium, Mohamed

    August 7, 2012 at 4:20 am | Reply
  11. $teve Obid the dude

    WiLL somebody PLEASE drop a big bunker bomb on those Baby Bashers and let Syrian people get on with building a democratic 21st century nation? ASSASINATE Assad ASP !!

    August 7, 2012 at 4:15 am | Reply
  12. Confused

    So none of the posts mention the fact that these defections are much like abandoning a sinking ship. Wouldn't you get off? Albiet all we read in the media does not indicate what it takes to leave. Why dont more pilots scramble out in thier MIGS? Are there families threatened? Who can you trust? Just a bad position to be in. And btw, the Syrians never liked us in the first place.. You know, God willing, death to America types. just sayin.

    August 7, 2012 at 2:12 am | Reply

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