Colonel Hassan, Beloved Among Syrian Alawites

Colonel Sohail Hassan was the chief engineer of the strategy against the insurgency in 2013

He is the man who rises from inside the Syrian security apparatus, known for his Baathist moustache and his crooked military hat.

 

Colonel Sohail Hassan, also known as "the Tiger", was the chief engineer of the strategy launched by Damascus in the spring of 2013 against the insurgency.

 

His achievements include breaking the siege on the pro-regime neighborhoods in Aleppo, regaining control over al-Qarn in the northeast of the city, and launching the possible siege to encircle the eastern neighborhoods controlled by the rebels there.

 

In October, his troops regained control of the city of Morek in Hama after it was attacked with explosive barrels, which allowed government forces to use the village as a platform to launch rockets towards the countryside of Idleb.

 

These military actions gave Hassan an unrivaled aura within the pro-regime circles. Dozens of Facebook pages, followed by tens of thousands of people, have been created in his honor. Hassan is being celebrated as the "man of the stage" and "the symbol of victory" and  "the hero of our time".

 

This kind of pervasive worship is significant when considering the unrest within Syrian power circles.

 

"It is the syndrome of Samir Geagea," according to the Syrian analyst Jihad Yazigi who said he believes this represents a shift in policy.

 

"Hassan will ask for a reward at the end of the conflict, but he should not forget that within the circles of the Syrian regime, the only character that can be glorified is the president," he said.

 

The colonel, around 50 years old, has two winning strikes in this game: His position within the Air Force Intelligence, the most powerful security branch in the country, and the fact he comes from an Alawite family, just like Assad himself.

 

The militarization of the Syrian uprising in 2012 paved the way for the rise of Hassan, as "ground troops were in front of a challenge of either to adapt or die," according to Aram Nergezian, an expert in military affairs in the Middle East.

 

"Major units were divided into smaller and more interactive ones. The incompetent or older leaders were marginalized, allowing less experienced soldiers to achive greater responsibilities," he said.

 

"When he asks for an aerial bombardment, he always gets it," said Mohammed Abboud, a dissident who became the leader of a group of rebels.

 

"Hassan's method operates in two stages: bombing using missiles, then cleaning out the houses, one by one. Hassan applies this technique with exceptional enthusiasm. Hassan was one of the military leaders who opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in 2011, despite the fact that official instructions called to calm the situation," Abboud added.

 

It was logical that the Syrian regime forced him not to appear protected from the rebels and the curious international non-governmental organizations which investigate the war crimes committed in Syria. But in the spring of 2014, the pro-regime TV channel, Sama TV, broadcast a video clip in which Hassan appeared during a visit to his troops on the front of Aleppo. Hassan was listening to one of his men casting a poem praising him, and then he hugged the man.

 

The situation has opened doors for "the Tiger". The Alawites, who felt weary of sending their children to fight and die, saw in Hassan the right man for them. "It is a clever move from the regime," said Fares Beyyoush, a former military figure who joined the revolution.

 

"You cannot fight without the image of the hero who raises morale. One of the reasons for our failure is our inability to find a figure like him, supported by all parties," Fares explained.

 

Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer

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