A series of high-profile defections from Syria's embattled regime continued this week, as Nawah Fares, the country's ambassador to Iraq, became the highest ranking official yet to bail out on President Bashar al-Assad. Fares said Assad's government "has turned into an instrument to kill people and their aspiration to freedom," and he urged other officials and soldiers to "join the revolution." Fares' departure came on the heels of last week's defection of Manaf Tlas, a Republican Guard commander and close friend to Assad, and opposition leaders say two more ambassadors are on the verge of jumping ship. What does the latest slap in the face mean for Assad? Here, three takeaways:
1. Assad's support might finally be crumbling
Fares' defection could mark a turning point, says Rick Moran at The American Thinker. The ambassador was never a member of Assad's inner circle, but his bold move might inspire other diplomats to follow his lead, which could turn the tables in the country's bloody 16-month conflict. "A few high ranking defections may start the ball rolling elsewhere as the rats begin to abandon a sinking ship."
2. The military still has Assad's back
The news of the first high-level diplomatic defection is a morale booster for the opposition, says Elizabeth A. Kennedy of The Associated Press. But Assad has faced nothing like the mass defections of senior officials during Libya's revolt. More importantly, his military remains far more loyal than its counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt did, because the Assad dynasty packed it with members of their Alawite minority, who "fear revenge attacks" if members of the Sunni majority — like Fares, Tlas, and other recent defectors — take power.
3. Get rid of Assad and his underlings might fall in line
Until recently, there appeared to be two options in Syria — sweep away the whole regime, or incorporate Assad into a political transition, says Howard LaFranchi at The Christian Science Monitor. Neither seemed workable, as regime change would have left a dangerous power vacuum in the Middle East, and striking a deal with Assad was a non-starter with the opposition. But if other officials are sympathetic to the rebels, there's a "third way": Remove Assad and leave much of his regime intact. That would reduce the risk of full-blown civil war and the danger that Syria's chemical and biological weapons will fall into the wrong hands. An "'Assad no, Syrian government yes'" approach might also give Russia a reason to stop protecting the regime.