Members of the Syrian opposition in exile in Paris cheered to news that a top general defected to Turkey today. The international media was quick to hail this as the biggest crack in Butcher Assad’s armor yet.Maybe so, and maybe not.The NYT reports that Brigadier General Manaf Tlass was close to Assad and a member of his inner circle:
A commander in Syria’s elite Republican Guards, who was a member of the Damascus aristocracy and a close friend and contemporary of President Bashar al-Assad, was reported on Thursday to have fled the country and defected.
The defecting general is one of the highest ranking Sunni Muslims in Assad’s government. His prominence helped conceal the sectarian nature of the government. The Tlass family has a huge fortune, and Tlass is the son of Mustafa Tlass, Syria’s defense minister from 1974 to 2004 and a close confidant of Bashar’s father Hafez.Many members of the Tlass family seem to have quietly sneaked out of Damascus in order to stay in closer touch with their money, and probably to insure themselves against the total collapse of the regime. But it also looks like General Tlass wanted a more moderate approach to crushing the revolt. There is at least some speculation that the reason he left is because the government refused his request to take a softer line with its opponents. If so, his defection may not—as many hope—be a sign that the regime is cracking. Rather it could be a sign that the true bitter-end hardliners are now firmly in control.We shall see. In the meantime, let me suggest that anybody who really wants to understand Syria read this brilliant post by Adam Garfinkle, where he takes you as close to inner US government thinking and intelligence analysis as an outsider (but ex-insider) can.