According to Syrian state television, Defense Minister Daoud Rajha as well as Deputy Defense Minister Assef Shawkat, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law, were killed in a suicide bomb attack carried out in the National Security building in Damascus. The attack is said to have killed two other ranking Syrian officials, including former defense minister Hassan Ali Turkmani, and injured several others.
We spoke to Michael O’Hanlon about the immediate impact of the attack as well as its possible implications for the Assad regime and the conflict in Syria in general. O’Hanlon is Director of Research and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a leading national security and defense policy analyst.
Below are highlights of some of O’Hanlon’s observations. Check the sound file on the bottom for a fuller version of the interview.
Striking blow to Assad regime
[The attack] is striking because it has to put fear in the hearts and minds of every top Syrian official and perhaps President Assad himself. Clearly, a big part of the reason the regime has held together so far is out of survival instinct; that Christians and Alawites and other minorities and cronies of the Assad family felt they were safer supporting the state and try to oppose the insurgency than they were trying to promote some kind of a political power sharing agreement.
That suggests this insurgency is really getting more powerful, is getting some better sense of intelligence and perhaps even has a greater number of insiders working with it.
Attack can cut both ways
O’Hanlon believes that type of high level assassination could work for the regime:
Perhaps members of the regime will say if this insurgency has become so lethal, they may believe the rhetoric of President Assad that this is mostly a bunch of terrorists using car bombs like the ones that were used in Iraq and that may actually unify the regime even more around Assad.
Or possibly against it:
[The] attack implies that the insurgency will shift the course of balance in a major way but it is possible that this was a lucky shot by the insurgents and they will not be able to create the success.
Little Impact on the UNSC
The [United Nations] Security Council does not really have that much potential at the moment because it is divided across lines, with the Russians still sympathetic to the Assad regime and I do not think the Russians’ sympathy [toward Syria] is going to lessen as a result of the assassinations. I think, if anything, those who already supported Assad will say: here’s what happened; you have Christians getting killed, you have other minorities being threatened, this is not an insurgency that we can work with. So I do not think the Security Council dynamics are likely to change in a big way as a result.
Listen to more of Michael O’Hanlon’s insights on the situation in Syria (4:47):
Egyptian-American Mohamed Elshinnawi is a senior reporter at VOA. He covered the Middle East peace process from Camp David in 1978 through the 1993 Oslo Agreements to Syrian-Israeli talks in 2000. He interviewed Arab heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers and as well as ranking U.S. officials, including members of Congress. He hosted "Dialogue with the West," a live TV show which, broadcast via satellite from Washington, reached 35 million Arabs. He is fluent in Arabic and English.