Key military leader defects from Assad regime, flees Syria

posted at 9:46 am on July 6, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

A key ally of Bashar Assad within the Syrian military has changed sides and fled the country, joining the opposition in exile.  General Manaf Tlas commanded a brigade of the Republican Guard, the elite unit whose loyalty to the regime usually exists without question:

A powerful military officer and longtime close associate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has defected to the opposition and was on his way to Paris, where foreign ministers from Friends of Syria countries are meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed Friday.

In what could be the first sign of a crack in the Assad regime’s inner circle, Maj. Gen. Manaf Tlas fled to Turkey this week before heading for France to join his father, a once-powerful former defense minister, a close family friend told Reuters.

The pro-Assad Web site Syria Steps was the first to report that Tlas, who heads the elite Republican Guard, had joined the opposition. It appeared to be the most senior defection since the uprising against Assad began more than 15 months ago.

The Web site of the Tartous Today newspaper, which supports the Assad government, later carried a report from the Shaam News Network saying that Tlas had disappeared in the Syrian capital, Damascus, two days earlier but that the network had not published the information because of the “sensitivity of the situation.”

The news cheered the gathering of ex-pats in Paris this week meeting with representatives of Western and Arab nations, even if no one was sure what Tlas’ intentions are.  It also boosted the efforts of Western diplomats attempting to pressure Russia and China to back away from their client dictator:

The defection of a Syrian general who is a personal friend of President Bashar al-Assad gave a huge boost to anti-government rebels as Western and Arab states met them in Paris on Friday to help prise Assad from power.

In some of the strongest U.S. remarks yet on a crisis that has divided the United Nations Security Council along Cold War lines, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Paris conference that Russia and China must “pay a price” for blocking U.N. sanctions that might press Assad into stepping down.

As she spoke, Manaf Tlas, a brigade commander in the Republican Guard who attended military college with Assad and fled to Turkey this week, was on his way to Paris, where his father, Assad’s father’s defense minister, has also taken up residence, a close family friend told Reuters. …

“His defection is big news because it shows that the inner circle is disintegrating,” said a Western diplomat who knew Tlas in Damascus. “Manaf does not give the impression that he is a big thug, but he mattered in the military.”

In Washington, a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said: “General Tlas is a big name and his apparent decision to ditch Assad hurts, even though it probably didn’t come as a surprise.

“Tlas lately seems to have been on the outs, but he’s got charisma and some smarts. If he joins the insurgents that could be significant.”

If Tlas felt that unhappy within an elite unit that presumably enjoys special status and favors from the regime, he’s probably not the only senior officer to do so.  That puts Assad in a very uncomfortable position.  He can’t afford a purge in the middle of an insurrection, but he may not be able to afford letting it go, either.  How can he assure his own safety — presumably the overriding mission of the Republican Guard — without having assurances of their loyalty?  Tlas was supposedly a personal friend, and he turned out to be disloyal, at least to Assad.  That’s a situation that most dictators end up experiencing, and usually toward the very end of their regimes.

This has the potential to be very embarrassing for Russia and China as well.  One report has Tlas disillusioned over civilian massacres conducted by the Syrian military, to which Russia has been giving material support.  If Tlas testifies to that in public, Russia may have no choice but to withdraw its support, although neither Russia or China have been known to be terribly moved by international opinion.  Both might prefer to avoid the spectacle altogether by providing the necessary inducements to get Assad to leave on his own, while it can still be done.

Assad certainly isn’t on the cusp of collapse, at least not yet.  However, events are moving in that direction, and we may be reaching the point where that outcome is inevitable.


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Just sad to see “Conservatives” cheering on the Obama-sponsored rise of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East.

Of course it’s the CIA/MI6/Bush Crime Family/State Dept. rise as well. It’s all been planned for at least a decade.

Ed Morsi’s just doing what he’s told. He’s a sport.

sartana on July 6, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Obama is waiting for the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood to get better organized before taking any further action….

albill on July 6, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Bashar al-Assad has defected to the opposition and was on his way to Paris

Aw hell. Pretty soon he’ll be eating fromage quiche and snogging women with hairy armpits. His brain will fall out and the only intel ‘Friends of Syria‘ will get out of him is the subway route to Rue de Pigalle.

:P

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on July 6, 2012 at 9:54 AM

Darn. Scroojd up the quote:

A powerful military officer and longtime close associate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has defected to the opposition and was on his way to Paris

:-)

Ladysmith CulchaVulcha on July 6, 2012 at 9:59 AM

…but Nancy Pelosi said the old regime were reformers and they are our friends…and she wore Arafat’s style headscarf when she said it!

KOOLAID2 on July 6, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Just don’t let anything happen to Assad’s wife.

Too bad Sarko and Silvio are no longer in charge. They’d be fighting over who was going to grant her asylum.

budfox on July 6, 2012 at 10:03 AM

So lets say for arguments sake that Assad is over-thrown. Then what? Didn’t I read that the “liberated”Libya has the Muslim Brotherhood poised to take over? We all know what happened to Egypt. Arab Spring my a..

sandee on July 6, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Why should we care which flavor of anti-American terrorists rule Syria?

elfman on July 6, 2012 at 10:10 AM

So where are Assad’s wife and two young sons? Bashar may stay and fight to the bitter end, but I’d think he’d move them to safety — possibly to Tehran?

rbj on July 6, 2012 at 10:10 AM

Putin will not approve.

Bmore on July 6, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Can’t The Won bow to someone and clear all this up? Better yet, print some money to give to them.

Cindy Munford on July 6, 2012 at 10:24 AM

The news cheered the gathering of ex-pats in Paris this week meeting with representatives of Western and Arab nations, even if no one was sure what Tlas’ intentions are.

A big question–what are Tlas’ intentions? Will he join the Muslim Brotherhood, or Hezbollah? His flying to Paris to hang out with other “Friends of Syria” isn’t necessarily a good sign–after all, the Ayatollah Khomeini hung out in Paris until the Shah’s regime was weakened in 1979, then returned to enslave Iran, which is STILL enslaved.

Another question–why did Tlas wait until after a Socialist President was elected in France to defect? The conservative government under Sarkozy was careful about forming alliances with possibly unsavory characters, and was also sensitive to the plight of Lebanon, which had been invaded by the Syrian army. Internal strife in Syria could keep the Syrian army pinned down and allow some liberation for Lebanon.

But Socialist leaders in France tend to cozy up to Arab revolutionaries–they are very pro-Palestinian, and anti-Israel and anti-Lebanon. If Tlas’ intentions are with the Muslim Brotherhood of Hezbollah, did he deliberately wait until after the French elections because he wouldn’t get a warm welcome from Sarkozy?

Steve Z on July 6, 2012 at 10:28 AM

I fear that the only spring in the Middle East is that of the doomsday clock going tic tock tic tock as it counts down the time to WW III. And, Obama’s course of action is wishful thinking between holes on the golf course. While we should be walking softly be carrying a big stick, he’s riding a golf cart and carring an expensive club.

tnarch on July 6, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Why should we care which flavor of anti-American terrorists rule Syria?

elfman on July 6, 2012 at 10:10 AM

I expect that the Sunnis who take over will not have a lot of use for the Shiite Iranians and the Russians who helped kill their relatives and friends. They may not really like the Shiite Hezbollah group that helped stifle them for years either. The enemy of my enemy may not be my friend but….

KW64 on July 6, 2012 at 10:35 AM

General Manaf Tlas was the token Sunni at the top of Syria.
Now that there is a Sunni Purge going on in Syria, it was only prudent to get the hell out while he could.

J_Crater on July 6, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Ed Morsi’s just doing what he’s told. He’s a sport.

sartana on July 6, 2012 at 9:53 AM

…huh?…you’re snorting what?

KOOLAID2 on July 6, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Ed Morsi’s just doing what he’s told. He’s a sport.

sartana on July 6, 2012 at 9:53 AM

Really? Let’s test that out: Ed! Make me a sammich — no!

tick tick tick

No sammich. :(

Blake on July 6, 2012 at 10:46 AM

no! = now!

Blake on July 6, 2012 at 10:47 AM

He’s probably trying to broker his safe exit to another muslim country in echange for a halt to bloodshed. Problem is, his muslim neighbors don’t have the political desire, political clout, or a strong logistical ability to help. Russia fits the bill, but not likely to receive the call.

michaelthomas on July 6, 2012 at 10:57 AM

But you can’t be a Middle East dictator without your own “Elite Republican Guard!”

Is that phrase listed in Strunk & White’s Elements of Style as mandatory when discussing a Middle Eastern thug’s closest henchmen?

DarthBrooks on July 6, 2012 at 1:48 PM

When Assad falls, the arm of Iran in the western crescent is broken. Hamas and Hezbollah will wither, and the popular effect will reverberate back to Tehran.

AshleyTKing on July 6, 2012 at 2:52 PM

This has the potential to be very embarrassing for Russia and China as well. One report has Tlas disillusioned over civilian massacres conducted by the Syrian military, to which Russia has been giving material support.

Ed

Best keep out of Syria.

And all that wishful thinking projected on what you expect from Russia and China isn’t worth the space it took to print.

You’ve failed to note the US tax funded support for Assad’s opposition. Those “rebels” (non-Syrian mercenaries aiding the rebels) terrorize and massacre civilians. By ignoring that reality, Ed, you choose to stay stuck on stupid, which is hardly bliss when the blow back hits home.

It isn’t that any one source is necessarily all correct or all incorrect. That’s why it’s best to review interviews from intelligent people (rarely from the MSM) who visit Syria and speak with the people on the urban streets WHERE THE SHELLING AND KILLING TRANSPIRE as well as with the Ministers of State.

This Syrian War for self determination is for the Syrians to determine for themselves.

Assad’s family was institutionalized by the West. According to the King of Jordan, Assad’s administration has long been working to convert moderation within his government, meeting much resistance from the hardline Sunni powers that be in the power with 60% of the Syrian population. Like Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya removed by NATO, Assad has maintained the stability between the many various religious tribes, keeping the peace not only within Syria but performing a balancing act in the region. All the while in his case preventing his Sunni majority from exterminating other indigenous religious entities in Syria. But when the cruel Wahhabi Saudi sponsored Muslim Brotherhood usurps Syria via this so-called Arab Spring, all of the politically incorrect populations (indigenous Christians, Jews, Druzes, Alawis, Ismaili, Imamis, Yazidi, Shia) will meet genocide without mercy, and women will be stripped of what intellectual achievements they’ve made. Then the purging of Sunnis will follow to cleanse heretics from the single chosen “true” form of Sunni Islam to inaugurate the Sunni Caliphate prophesied (conveniently for those who want it) to conquer the world.

It takes a fool to say that the House of Saud is America’s “friend”. No. To them, we are tools in their hands as they play us to achieve their own ends.

maverick muse on July 6, 2012 at 3:52 PM