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Stratfor report on Syrian Security, Intelligence Leaders (Corrected)

Monday 4 October 2010

The Syrian President Reshuffles Security, Intelligence Leaders

September 28, 2010 | 2117 GMT

STRATFOR received information Sept. 28 that Syrian President Bashar al Assad has reshuffled the upper echelons of the country’s intelligence and security apparatuses. The new appointments, according to a source, include the following:

• Appointing Brig. Gen. Ghassan Khalil as the head of the special intelligence unit (referred to as the information section) of the state security department, replacing Maj. Gen. Zuhair Hamad. (True: Khalil was appointed on July 1, 2010).

• Transferring the head of air force intelligence, Maj. Gen. Abdulfattah Qudsiya, to lead military intelligence. (In fact, Maj. Gen. Qudsiya was transferred to military intelligence in July 2009).

• Promoting Brig. Gen. Jamil Hasan, deputy head of state security intelligence, to the rank of major general and transferring him to head air force intelligence. (In fact, Brig. Gen. Jamil Hassan was promoted and transferred to air force intelligence on July 1, 2009).

• Promoting Asef Shawkat (husband of Bushra al Assad, the president’s sister) to the rank of lieutenant general, in preparation for appointing him minister of defense.

(Assef Shawkat was promoted to Maj. Gen. on July 1, 2009. Was it to compensate for the loss of his position as head of military security? Was it a farewell present for losing all power in the intelligence field? Or, simply, to keep him as a reserve card which could be used in the future (against Maher Assad, for instance)/ Nobody knows.

Al Assad periodically reshuffles his security and intelligence apparatuses in order to prevent his top security officials from establishing their own centers of power. This particular reshuffle takes place at a time when the Syrian regime is taking a number of calculated foreign policy risks with the intent of expanding Syria’s influence in the region. While keeping an eye on the U.S.-Iran negotiating track, Syria is — in collaboration with the Saudi government — using its dominant position in Lebanon to contain Hezbollah. At the same time, Syria is putting out feelers for a diplomatic rapprochement with the United States and is showing interest again in peace talks with Israel. But Syria will also be cautious in its moves.

The most intriguing reshuffle concerns replacing Mamluk with Maj. Gen. Hamad to become the head of state security. Hamad, STRATFOR has been told, is close to the Iranians, and Tehran had made clear it wanted Hamad to replace Mamluk upon the latter’s retirement. Mamluk was notably responsible for engineering a July agreement between Syria and Saudi Arabia that focused on controlling Hezbollah’s actions in Lebanon. Al Assad’s decision to appoint Hamad to this senior position could thus indicate that Syria may backtrack to some extent in its commitment to Saudi Arabia (and the United States and Israel by extension) as it tries to balance its recent cooperation with Riyadh with its long-standing, albeit strained, relationship with Iran.

Ali MAMLOUK can hardly pass for a lukewarm on the issue of the relationship between Damascus and Tehran, which would be better served by Zouheir HAMAD... Stratfor’s comments on this point are, simply, rantings.

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