The changes carried out by the Assad regime of major commanders in its security agencies at the start of the month still raise a number of questions regarding their significance and timing.
In this context, Strategy Watch on Monday issued a research paper in which it addressed the recent “security transitions,” saying they aimed to achieve “regional normalization through Tel Aviv,” and that the “new arrangement” of the commanders of regime security agencies would “not hold up” because they are “based on new balances that do not take into account the sectarian structure that has come to color Syrian security institutions over the last five decades.”
The group’s analysis is based on various data regarding the command figures, both those who were appointed and those whose tasks the regime ended. It said that, “the appointments and transfers were concluded under the supervision of Russian intelligence, which has enjoyed strong relations with Syrian security agencies since the 1980s, when they played a key role in resolving Hafez al-Assad’s dispute with his brother Rifaat in 1984 and worked to train the security circle around his son Bashar from 2000-2009.”
According to the research, Russian intelligence is working to: “dismantle organizations loyal to Iran and Maher al-Assad, who depends on the commander of the Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, to bolster the Fourth Division and arm it. Soleimani depends on Maher to preserve the broad network of military bases, production facilities, and rocket storehouses and the integration of thousands of Iranian officers, advisers, engineers and technicians there and placing a large number of Iranian militia members in the Fourth Division and giving them Syrian citizenship.”
According to Strategy Watch: “the recent appointments are a direct result of the threat posed by Bashar’s surprise visit to Tehran (February 2019) and the understandings that followed between the Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri with his Syrian and Iraqi counterparts in Damascus (March 2019), which forced Putin to send his defense minister to Damascus with a sharply-worded letter to Bashar al-Assad and then embark on a comprehensive project to reformulate the Syrian security equation” whereby, “the Russian president had established a fundamental transformation in its treatment of the Syrian issue, when it asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (February 2019) to develop a vision for addressing the Syrian crisis and opening a communication channel with Washington regarding Syria. The tripartite meeting in Jerusalem resulted from these understandings (Jun. 24-25, 2019). “
The report said that the appointment of Major General Ghassan Ismail as the head of the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, instead of Jamil Hassan came to, “prepare the administration to deal with the issue of normalization with Israel,” adding that this was in conjunction with, “the sidelining of Brigadier General Suhail al-Hassan (the Tiger), despite rumors circulating at the end of last year that Major General Hassan was pushing for the Tiger to be appointed in his place after he retired. This relationship had serious consequences for Suhail al-Hassan, who lost his shares in Damascus as a result of his collusion with Major General Hassan.” The regime also wants to, “rid itself of Major General Jamil al-Hassan, whose direct negotiations with the Israelis led to a major disaster. His meeting with them (June 2019) near the border lasted about four hours, but Hassan looked stiff and ended the meeting—suddenly—with insults and challenges.”
Regarding the appointment of Major General Hussam Louka to the General Intelligence Directorate, the report said that Moscow had achieved gains by “strengthening Russian influence in the Republican Palace” as well as, “imposing control over the one internationally-recognized intelligence agency.”
Despite the lack of an official regime announcement about the appointment of Ali Mamlouk as deputy to Bashar al-Assad and the appointment of Major General Deeb Zeitoun in his place at the National Security Bureau, the report said that the step—if proven to be true—was “a major transition in regime policies,” adding that, “Bashar al-Assad believes that Major General Mamlouk is a threat, since Mamlouk gained the support of Italian intelligence, which resulted in the Italian government instructing its former employees—the European Union political official Federica Mogherini and the former UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura—to put forward Mamlouk’s name as a replacement for Bashar al-Assad and to promote him for the transitional period and attempted to persuade the Syrian opposition of this from 2016-2018.”
Will the new arrangement hold?
The report said that: “the new appointments satisfied Israel’s demands, which have begun to play major roles in the Syrian political issue, with figures that they don’t want now distanced, and replaced with figures who are less influential. Ghassan Ismail, Kifah Melham, Hussam Louka, Nasser al-Ali, and Nasser Deeb can all be described as having second-level influence, and not enjoying centers of power or tribal influence.”
In terms of the role assigned to the new security leaders, the report said that, “Moscow wants to use Israeli influence in Washington to reintegrate the regime into the regional structure and to provide the necessary funding for reconstruction projects by removing figures close to Iran, whereby it is expected that additional measures will be taken to weaken Maher al-Assad’s influence.”
However: “by observing the reactions in Maher al-Assad’s circle and the militias around him, and following the campaign of criticism against the regime in Lattakia and Tartous by the Assad family and its allies against Bashar, it is not expected that the new security arrangement will hold. This is because it is based on new balances that do not take into account the sectarian structure that has come to color Syrian security institutions over the last five decades. The appointment of secondary figures who do not belong to tribes influential in the sect is a tactic to which Moscow has resorted, to distance powerful figures and to strengthen their central grip on the Republican Palace, but does not take into account Bashar al-Assad’s loss of leadership skills with the center of power being introduced to erosion and collapse.”
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.