Considering a Palace Coup in Syria!


Such a coup scenario is or isn’t unlikely!

Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime has maintained its hold on power amid escalating violence and international criticism over the past year. However, pressure on the regime could eventually increase to a point that other members of the inner circle may attempt to supplant the al Assad clan. This small group of elites could even receive backing from Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran. While such a coup scenario appears unlikely at present, the threats the al Assad clan faces from within the regime are at least as serious as the threats from external powers or the opposition.

Analysis

Though the al Assad family is the public face of the Syrian regime and controls some of its most important positions, the regime also comprises other Alawites as well as Christians, Druze, other religious minorities and members of the country’s Sunni majority. This inner circle includes Syria’s most powerful and experienced political, military and civilian leaders, and these individuals view their own survival as tied to the fate of the regime. However, if al Assad began to lose his ability to hold together the disparate elements that form the Syrian regime, a group of regime elites could try to stage a palace coup and forcibly remove the family from power.

Another potential scenario involves coordination with external parties, likely Iran and Russia, both of which have deep intelligence networks in Syria. Although Iran and Russia provide significant financial and military backing for al Assad and the Syrian regime, they have contingency plans for a new regime if a power transfer becomes necessary. The imperative for these allies is not to keep the al Assad clan in power but to maintain a government in Syria that will remain friendly to their interests and does not deviate too far from the status quo.

The ability of Syria’s allies to engineer a coup is questionable. Moreover, a coup is unlikely at present because the regime does not show external signs of cracking and still possesses a largely united military and intelligence apparatus. However, if the situation calls for such action, Iran and Russia will work to maintain the overall structure of the regime. This could be pursued by brokering an official power transfer between al Assad and other top members of the regime, similar to the power transfer in Yemen. Because al Assad clan members are at the core of the president’s inner circle, his close family would likely not be welcome to join the putative new government.

If al Assad were removed from the inside with or without foreign backing, key Sunni figures and allied minorities in the current regime would likely take over leadership. A more inclusive and diverse regime could use its sectarian composition to quell some of the opposition while still maintaining the overall regime structure and avoiding a power vacuum that could lead to greater instability.

Of the minority inner circle members, some of the most prominent include the heads of Syria’s four intelligence agencies: Jamil Hassan, Abdel-Fatah Qudsiyeh, Ali Mamlouk and Muhammad Deeb Zaitoon. Aside from these intelligence leaders, an important minority leader to watch is Hisham Bakhtiar, a Shi’i in charge of the National Security Council who serves as a security and intelligence adviser to al Assad.

Prominent Sunni figures who could play a role in a post-al Assad government include Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, commander of the elite Republican Guard forces Manaf Tlas, army Chief of Staff Fahd Jasem al-Farij and Assistant Regional Secretary of the Baath Arab Socialist Party Muhammad Said Bukhaytan.

Profiled below are figures with experience in managing the security and intelligence affairs of the state, and all except Bashar al Assad’s close relatives could emerge as members of a new regime in the event of a palace coup or negotiated power transfer.

Minority Members of al Assad’s Inner Circle

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