MESOP : THE ALI MAMLOUK MYSTERY – Did Ali Mamlouk, Assad’s Spy Chief, Try to Carry out a Coup?” by Joshua Landis

11 May 2015 – [Addendum: 3 hours after posting: A trusted source says that Mamlouk has been working as normal this past week.]

I have been asked about what I think of the latest Telegraph news story that claims that Ali Mamlouk, the head of intelligence in Damascus, has been arrested for trying to carry out a coup and talking to the opposition because he has qualms about Iranians calling the shots in Damascus.It doesn’t make sense to me. What does Mamlouk have to gain by talking with “the opposition”?

  1. His throat will be cut as soon as opposition members get their hands on it. His only hope is the Iranians; It has been since the beginning.
  2. There is no “opposition” for him to productively talk to. Who could he be talking to from the opposition? Nusra? Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar? None of them would accept Mamlouk in any other condition but dead. Why would he talk to the Syria Opposition Coalition? They cannot deliver anything. They certainly cannot stop the fighting or save his life or that of the regime. It doesn’t make sense.
  3. The regime lost Jisr ash-Shaghour. This was a big loss. It is of immense strategic value – much more so than Idlib, which was surrounded by a sea of opposition controlled territory. Jisr guards the Ghab valley, the back door to Hama; it also stands at the entrance to Latakia, which is some 45 miles away.   It is right along the Turkish border and cuts the main road from Latakia to Aleppo. The regime is making a big push to retrieve the city. We will see what sort of success the Syria Army will have in this effort. The rebels are determined to keep it. Only a day ago, they blew up a large hunk of the main hospital, where many regime soldiers remain surrounded inside the city.
  4. The narrative about the top Sunnis in the regime getting cold feet about working with Persians seems too neat and too manufactured. Of course, if the wheels are falling off the regime, people will try to find a way out, but it is much more likely that they will simply flee, rather than try to pull off a coup and then negotiate a deal for the regime. It would be like the first mate of a sinking ship trying to negotiate with the sea. If the regime splinters, there will be no saving it. This rumor follows the Ghazaleh affair in March, at which time, the opposition insisted that Mamlouk (the other top Sunni in the regime) would be next to die mysteriously, be arrested, or come to a sudden end. There are many rumors. Last week, everyone was saying that Mamlouk was in a hospital; now this.
  5. I cannot believe that Mamlouk would think of Rifaat al-Assad as a possible successor to Bashar. Rifaat expiry date passed long ago. He has no following. It all seems too far fetched.
  6. The regime still has punch left in it, and the rebels are far from Damascus. Of course, if the Saudis and Turks are willing to send a lot more money and weapons, the rebels have numbers on their side. Their best strategy is the war of attrition. But the regime continues to maintain the upper-hand today. It has an air force and more armor. Iran and Russia have made no indication that they are giving up the fight or willing to throw Assad overboard. Losing Assad and his regime would be a tremendous blow to both. They can also play the long game. Saudi Arabia with its new king and thirty year-old defense minister is not a combination one would want to bet on for the long run. The war in Yemen may be popular in Saudi Arabia today, but it will be disastrous for the new King in the long run. His opponents, who have been pushed from power, will come out of the woodwork when Saudis sour on it. We are far from an end-game.

For these reasons, I am skeptical of the notion that Assad regime principals, such as Ali Mamlouk, believe that they have better options than sticking with Assad, the Iranians, and the hand they have been dealt. I am sure none of them particularly like the hand they have, but reshuffling the deck now, would likely bring their swift and certain end.