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Elite Rot: More Syrian Officers Jumping Ship

Slowly, the people who run Assad’s machine are deserting. The Washington Post has an interview with Brig. Gen. Mohammed Hassoun, an officer in the Syrian military who defected to Turkey with his family. Hassoun is one of a handful of defectors now in a Turkish camp set up specifically for Syrian officers:

Hassoun said he knew his decision to leave Syria was risky. Asked what would have happened had his plans been discovered, Hassoun made a chopping movement, his right hand striking the tabletop hard. After some officers defected, he said, their entire extended families were arrested.

“This is the main reason more officers don’t do it,” he said.

Despite the increasing number of high-level desertions, Hassoun believes the bloodbath in Syria is far from over:

“I think it will take more than six months,” said Hassoun, who taught engineering at the Assad Military Academy for about 1,000 army cadets in Aleppo, during an interview at an Antakya cafe. “The regime’s army is strong and well-trained. It has fighter jets and tanks.” [ . . . ]

On his way to Turkey, Hassoun said he met FSA soldiers armed only with shotguns. “The regime can do more killing with one airstrike than the FSA can do with many attacks.”

Hassoun’s defection and others like it are important less because of any erosion in the regime’s military capacity than because of the effect on morale. The defections also say a lot about how the people working for the Syrian government see its chances for survival.

People leaving at this stage can hardly be called heroes. No doubt some deserve prosecution for crimes they’ve already committed, but it’s best to let them come without discouragement. The important thing isn’t to get justice done in Syria; the important thing is to end the war as quickly as possible. Encouraging allies of Assad to defect is an important tool to that end.

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