August 9, 2011 | Quote

Syrian Defense Minister Killed?

Syria expert Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies is cautious. He e-mails me, “Well, first we don’t yet know for sure if he’s actually dead. There are some news outlets and some opposition people who are saying that he is, but it’s not been confirmed. For instance, The Guardian’s Ian Black tweets: ‘ali habib, sacked syrian defence minister is more than alive according to Damascus source who saw him this morning.’ ” Badran explains, “The official narrative is that he was ill and that his condition had deteriorated. However, there were lots of rumors about Habib, including that he could’ve been someone in the military establishment that could be reached out to, possibly by the Turks.” Badran relates two very different takes on what might have happened:

A western diplomatic source quoted in Asharq Al-Awsat today said that according to their information, Habib was “staunchly opposed to the military campaign in Hama, and that his objection postponed several times having the army undertake that step.” The source added that a possible reason for his removal was “difference over the management of the crisis and over exhausting the army by deploying it in cities and against the people.”

An interesting item, however, appeared in the pro-Assad Lebanese daily, Al-Akhbar, which was carried and highlighted on a Syrian regime website, Cham Press, offered the following “analysis.” It said the replacement of Ali Habib was a “message” in the face of international and Arab pressure. It was a message regarding the cohesion of the military establishment and Assad’s trust in it, and it signals the failure of the project pushing for the regime’s collapse from the inside. Al-Akhbar’s item made sure to highlight Saudi Arabia and Turkey.