The Syrian president's move has been interpreted as part of the rivalry between Russia and Iran in Syria. That may be a stretch
July 18, 2019
Source: Middle East Eye | By Paul Khalifeh
The restructuring of Syria’s security apparatus announced on 8 July constitutes the most extensive change to the military and security institutions by President Bashar al-Assad since the bombing of the National Security headquarters in Damascus almost exactly seven years ago.
Among those killed in the attack on 18 July 2012 were General Hassan Turkmani, the chief of the National Security’s “crisis cell” (which dealt with repressing the uprising from 2011); the Minister of Defense Daoud Rajha; General Assef Shawkat,the president’s brother-in-law; and the national security chief, Hicham Ikhtiar.
A significant change
Shortly after the bombing, several appointments were made to key positions – four of these have been replaced in the latest reshuffle.
General Jamil al-Hassan, who since 2009 has been the head of the powerful Air Force Intelligence services (but his extensive prerogatives actually cover the entire country) has been replaced by his deputy, Ghassan Ismail.
General Mohamed Dib Zeitoun, the national security chief since 2012, has also been replaced by General Houssam Louka, whose former position as director of political security has been given to General Nasser al-Ali.
The most significant change is the promotion of General Ali Mamlouk, chief of the National Security Bureau, who has now become vice-president for security affairs.
The National Security Bureau was created after the 2012 bombing in order to coordinate and supervise the multiple security services against the Arab Spring revolt, which after several months of peaceful protests had turned into an armed rebellion.
Mamlouk was already one of the regime’s most prominent Sunni figures. Following his recent promotion, he is now the most powerful Sunni official in Syria. His former position as the head of the National Security Bureau has been attributed to Mohamed Dib Zeitoun, a Sunni Baathist general close to President Assad.
Another significant change barely noticed by the media was the promotion of Ali Turkmani, the son of the deceased chief of the crisis cell, to the position of presidential security advisor. This discreet physician had recently been sent abroad several times in the past by Assad and General Mamlouk on official missions.
An Iran-Russia rivalry?
News and analysis of the move dominated both Arab and international press. Some media platforms interpreted the changes as being part of a larger rivalry between Russia and Iran over the control of Syria’s military and security agencies and thus part of the framework of a geopolitical competition between countries that are, theoretically, allies.