But let’s be clear here. This is not a regular military coup. No. The actual coup in this case took place within the ranks of the ruling Trinity itself, where Bashar used to be the final arbiter, that is, the person who had to make the tough decisions after the other two members presented their views. But now, it is the Trinity’s go-to guy that has taken over the position of ultimate arbitration a well.
Assef used to be the go-to guy on account of both his experiences and his natural disposition. This put him in the unique position to know all he field operatives and to establish a personal rapport with most of them, especially those he deemed talented and trustworthy enough as far as his plans were concerned.
The show force that took place next to his headquarters a couple of weeks ago, and which many interpreted as signifying an attempt at arresting him, was actually a show of force by him. By staging this little demonstration, Assef showed his brothers-in-law that he had support within the ranks of the Republican Guard and that he can make trouble for them. The brigades controlled by Maher are simply not enough to face the Republic Guard.
Moreover, the intelligence services, in all their varieties, seem now to be completely under Assef’s control. Indeed, even when Ghazi Kanaan was still alive, the political security apparatus, seems to have deferred more to Assef (in my case, it was the political security apparatus that imposed the travel ban, but it was Assef that ordered the ban lifted in his attempt at co-opting me at the time).
If there was ever a plan to let Assef go to Lebanon where he can be arrested by the Lebanese authorities acting under directives from Mehlis, Assef could have easily found out about them through the security channels.
Indeed, it seems that Deputy Foreign Minister Dawoodi’s reported meeting with Mehlis was not meant to dissuade the latter from arresting Chawkat, but was actually meant to simply gage the existence of such a possibility. Assef apparently foresaw a possibility for such a development and he decided that he should not take any risk in this regard. So, he put on his little show, and muscled Bashar and Maher into accepting the adoption of the tough stand he advocated. Everything that happened since had his fingerprints on it, including Bashar’s speech, in fact, especially Bashar’s speech. The bellicose nature of the speech and complete disregard for Lebanese officials, international opinion, and the intelligence of the Syrian people is vintage Assef. Many observers have already noted that, but they have missed the wider significance of it.
For Assef to be completely running the show is indeed a coup, albeit a well-hidden, well-disguised one. Bashar and Maher will have to go with this new arrangement now, the one that allows Assef to dictate things, simply because there is nothing they could do to oust him. He has simply outmaneuvered them and boxed them in. this is a psychological rather than a military coup.
The implications of this move, however, do raise serious concerns regarding legitimacy, not only in theory, but also, as far as many army officers are concerned. Army officers might feel obliged to follow the dictates of the President, just for being the President, but Assef’s? Now that’s a tough pill to swallow for most. True, Assef is feared, but he was never popular. He might have his men, but he does not control everybody.
If the army officers should come to realize the true nature of this subtle change on the top, this might give them the impetus and the justification to rebel. In the process, even the President’s wishes may not matter anymore, after all he has already lost control.