Inside Syria

Syria: Abandoning the sinking ship?

As one of Syria’s top generals has fled the country, we discuss the significance of this latest defection.

Western diplomats have hailed the defection of one of Syria’s top generals as a sign of government elites abandoning Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

Brigadier General Manaf Tlas is thought to be the most senior military defector yet in the Syrian crisis. He is the son of a former Syrian defence minister and member of one of the country’s most powerful Sunni families. He is also a close friend of President al-Assad, which is seen as an embarrassment to the government.

I don’t consider this defection as a politically-motivated defection rather than jumping out of the sinking ship of the regime… He didn’t defect because he is against the regime, he was for years the most loyal to the regime, this is because he doesn’t want to go down with the regime itself… I believe this defection will encourage other Sunni high-rank officers or officials to defect from this regime.

– Akil Hashem, a former Brigadier General in the Syrian Army

Tlas is just the latest official to cut ties with Assad – at least one deputy minister and 15 generals have defected to Turkey.

The defection of Tlas offered some welcome news at the latest Friends of Syria meeting on Friday.

Representatives from more than 100 countries gathered in Paris, calling for more pressure on Assad and promising to “massively increase” aid to Syria’s anti-government fighters.

But in what has become a hallmark of the Friends of Syria meetings, little progress was made on how to end the deadlock over the crisis.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, pushed for broader support for a new Kofi Annan plan that would transfer powers from Assad to an interim government.

She also called for a UN Security Council resolution that would make the plan enforceable. But that remains unlikely without support from Russia and China, both of which hold vetos and who were absent from the Paris meeting.

Is there a rift within Assad’s inner circle? How does the opposition benefit from the defection? And what can the international community do to end the crisis?

Inside Syria, with presenter Folly Bah Thibault, discusses the significance of this defection as well as the ratcheting up of efforts to end Syria’s ongoing crisis with guests: Akil Hashem, a former Brigadier General in the Syrian Army; Yasser Tabbara, a member of the Syrian National Council; and Nikolaos van Dam, a Middle East scholar and former Dutch ambassador, who has also written several books, including The struggle for power in Syria: Sectarianism, regionalism, and tribalism in politics.

“I don’t think it [the defection] will change a lot in the power balance, but it will just accentuate that a Sunni officer has defected and therefore those who remain are Alawite, but even if he had wanted to do anything against the regime from within the Republican Guard, he wouldn’t have the power to do so, because his men there are mainly Alawites. It would be much more interesting if a high-ranking Alawite general would defect… There is a sinking ship, but the ship is sinking very slowly, it can be taking a very very long time… The power balance is still very much in favour of the regime.”

Nikolaos van Dam, an author and Middle East scholar


  • More than 100 countries took part in the Freinds of Syria meeting in Paris
  • Delegates backed a new plan by Kofi annan for a transitional government
  • Anna’s plan would see Assad transfer power to an interim government
  • Delegates promised to massively increase aid to opposition groups
  • Russia and China did not attend the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris
  • Hillary Clinton harshly criticised Russia and China for being inflexible
  • Western leaders hailed the defection of one of Syria’s top generals
  • Syrian opposition says the defection of Manaf Tlas is a ‘huge blow’ to Assad
  • Qatar’s PM says action on Syria could bypass the UN Security Council
  • Syrian National Council calls for a no-fly zone to be imposed