October 8, 2012

The Flames Touch Assad’s Home
by Avi Melamed

According to accumulating information, the major Alawite families in Syria are beginning to openly oppose Assad’s rule.

The backbone of the Assad regime is the Alawite sect, a minority in this largely Sunni country. There are approximately 2.5 million Alawites in Syria – about 12% of the population. Most of them live along the Mediterranean shore and the mountain range in the northwestern part of the country. The main Alawite cities are Tartus (500,000 people and predominately Sunni), and the district of Latakiya which include the cities of Latakiya, Jableh, Al Haffa, and Al Qardahah the Assad family’s hometown.

The predominant Alawite families in the Al Qardaha district are Abud, Al Assad, Al Heir, Othman and Shalish. Members of these families, as well smaller Alawite families hold senior positions in the Syrian security establishment, and in the intelligence and finance sectors.

However, the relationships between the various families are complex. Competition, power struggles, conflicting economic interests and personal rivalries characterize the relations between these families.

So far, the Alawites have presented a united front and have supported the Assad regime. Yet, beneath the surface, criticism of the way Assad has conducted himself as the crisis in Syria has evolved is deepening the tension between the families.

The first indication to me that the tensions were escalating was in August 2012. An anonymous body called “The Shore’s Young People” presenting themselves as an Alawite opposition to Assad’s rule published a leaflet describing Assad as a brutal dictator. They also called upon the members of Al Shabiha, a paramilitary militia loyal to Assad, to leave the region.

The growing tensions exploded at the end of September 2012. A dispute between members of different Alawite families in a coffee shop in the city of Al Qardahah, Assad’s hometown, turned into a violent clash resulting the killing of 11 people and the injury of dozens. Reportedly, one of the Assad family’s most senior leaders was killed or seriously injured.

The violence quickly spread towards the nearby city of Jableh. In attempt to block the snowball from gaining momentum, the Syrian government is sending in military reinforcements and tanks and has blocked the main roads leading to the area. In addition, the cellular network in the region has apparently been shut down.

The growing fire within the Alawite families has been fueled by the increasing number of Alawite soldiers – including senior officers in Assad’s army – that have been killed in the war in Syria.

Reliable information indicates that more than 260 soldiers and officers from the district of Latakiya were killed. On Friday an Alawite senior officer from the city of Tartus was killed, Colonel Ali Hazan, from the Syrian army’s Elite Unit 105.

It seems the pressure is causing deepening fissures within the Assad family as well. A reliable source reports that two members of the Assad family, Fawaz Al Assad, the Head of Al Shabiha Militia, and Hilal Al Assad, the Commander of the 4th Division Military Police, have recently fled to Cyprus.

In addition, according to an uncorroborated report, seven very senior Alawite officers (Generals, Colonels, etc.) have defected to Jordan over the past twenty-four hours.

This widening conflict within the Alawite sect is a very significant development and could substantially impact the course and pace of events in Syria.

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Avi Melamed is an Israeli Middle East Strategic Intelligence Analyst, and lecturer specializing in the current affairs of the Arab and Muslim world and their impact on Israel and the region.

He is also the founder and creator of Feenjan – Israel speaks Arabic, a non-profit initiative which presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, and serves as an online platform for Israelis and Arabs to discover and discuss issues of common interest.

In his work as an analyst Avi provides intelligence analysis, briefings and tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policy makers, international media outlets as well as a wide variety of organizations and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East affairs. His expertise includes: The Arab awakening; Arab perspectives on Israel; Emerging challenges and opportunities in the Middle East; Evolving forces in the region and their current and future impact on Israel’s strategic environment, etc.

In the private sector Avi facilitates relationships between Israeli and international firms and potential partners in the Arab world.

Fluent in Arabic and Israeli- Jew with a unique understanding of Arab society and culture, Avi spent over twenty years living in Arab cities and communities throughout the region, often in high-risk positions at sensitive times. During the first Intifada he was appointed the youngest-ever Deputy Advisor on Arab affairs to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek and later he served in the Ehud Olmert administration as Senior Advisor. He was instrumental in developing Israeli policy in and around Jerusalem, and represented the city in local and international forums. He held various Intelligence and Counterterrorism field positions in delicate areas on behalf of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli government, and Israeli security and intelligence services including the Mossad, Shabak, and 8200.

Avi has authored two books, Separate and Unequal – Israel’s rule in East Jerusalem, published by Harvard University Press and Ubrusi, A Novel. He is a frequent guest on English and Arabic networks including Al Jazeera and BBC Arabic, his articles are translated into multiple languages and are available on international news websites and Wikistrat – Next Generation Strategy where he is a Senior Analyst.

Avi’s unique experience, outstanding analytical abilities, profound understanding of the Arab world and the Arabic language coupled with direct access to sources, resources and networks throughout the Arab world and intimate connections with local and regional intelligence resources has allowed him to keep his finger on the pulse on the Arab world that has resulted in a proven record of foreseeing the evolution of events as well as their impact on a local and regional level.

Through all of Avi’s efforts, as a speaker, an analyst, a writer, and an entrepreneur, he is a bridge builder. He dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.

Sample Client List: AIPAC; American Israel Joint Distribution Committee; American Jewish Committee; Birthright; Canada Israel Committee; Foreign Embassies; Friends of the IDF; Georgetown University; Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; Herzeliya Interdisciplinary Center; Israel Border Police; Israel Embassy; Israel Defense Forces; Israel Ministry of Defense; Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Israel Police; Israel Prison Authority; Israeli Colleges: Jewish Agency For Israel; Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Jewish Community Relations Council; Jerusalem Foundation; Jewish Federations of North America; Jewish National Fund; Hillel; MASA; Peres Center for Peace; Philips Academy Andover; Princeton University; The Israel Project; University of California, Berkeley; Wikistrat; World Bank; Young Presidents Organization and World Presidents Organization, etc.

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