Conflict & Justice

Gen. Ali Habib is the highest ranking Syrian official to defect yet


A rebel fighter carries homemade mortar rounds on Sept. 3, 2013 in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.


Mezar Mater

The number of Syrian officials who have defected from the regime represents a minority. Most have stayed loyal as the conflict spills into its third year and the number of refugees now tops 2 million

Still, each defection is a blow to President Bashar al-Assad's rule, and today's news that Gen. Ali Habib, former Syrian defense minister, has defected is no exception.

Habib is perhaps the highest ranking official yet to desert the regime.

Kamal Labwani, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main political opposition, told Bloomberg that Habib will be “an important source of information” for the West.

To date, more than 100 officials once loyal to Assad have defected. The majority of those are senior military and security officials, but many diplomats, members of parliament and cabinet members have switched sides as well. Al Jazeera's award-winning interactive tracks where many of them are now.

Here's a list of some top Syrian officials who defected previously, paving the way for Habib:

MARCH 2013

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Nour Ezzedeen Khallouf, in charge of supplies and logistics for the Syrian Army, defected in March 2013. The New York Times reported at the time that "his acceptance into the rebels’ ranks underscores their assertion that they will welcome anyone who switches sides even now, so deep into the conflict." But anti-government activists said the regime could easily replace Khallouf, lessening the blow of his departure.


The head of Syria's military police, Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, defected in December 2012. Al-Shallal aired a statement on al-Arabiya network, saying he had left the military because of “the diversion of the army from its basic mission of protecting the country to become gangs of murder and destruction.”

Kamal Jamal Beck, former director of programming at the official SANA radio and the SANA online news website in Damascus, announced his defection along with two colleagues from the radio service, Lama Al-Khadra and Baddour Abdel Karim in December 2012. They described the culture of fear under which they had been made to work, and said they hoped to set up an opposition media outlet to counteract regime propaganda.

Kamal Jamal Beck (center), Lama Al-Khadra (left) and Baddour Abdel Karim (right). (Pierre Verdy/AFP/Getty Images)


Riad Farid Hijab, former prime minister of Syria, defected in August 2012. Although the role of prime minister in Syria is largely symbolic, Hijab's defection was still the most significant political desertion to date. 

Former Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab at the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo on Feb. 11, 2013. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Gen. Muhammed Faris, the first Syrian in space, defected in August 2012.

JULY 2012

Manaf Tlass, brigadier general of the Syrian Republican Guard, defected in July 2012. Tlass attended military training with President Assad, and the two were described as close friends. The BBC reported that Tlass and his wife were fixtures on the Damascus social scene. Tlass' defection, then, was no doubt keenly felt by the regime. 

Nawaf al-Fares, ambassador to Iraq, defected in July 2012. Given his prominence, as well as the fact that his defection came days after Manaf Tlass', Nawaf al-Fares' desertion was seen at the time as a potential tipping point. 

Lamia al-Hariri, envoy to Cyprus and her husband, Abdelatif al-Dabbagh, ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, both defected in July 2012, as did Khaled al-Ayoubi, Syria's chargé d'affaires at the embassy in the UK. The three defected at the same time as Nawaf al-Fares, which gave the impression that diplomats were abandoning Assad in droves.