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‘Crisis Cell’ game-changer explosion: Ten years ago today

In mid-July 2012, thousands of rebels in Syria were advancing into Aleppo’s eastern neighbourhoods, the countryside of Deir ez-Zor was rising, declaring the end of the Assad’s rule over the entire region. As for Homs, despite the blood of the rebels being spilled in Baba Amr, the youth in Al-Qusayr, Talbiseh and Al-Bayada were regrouping for the next step.

In Daraa, the situation began to spiral out of control and the voice of its rebels grew louder as the Assad regime’s security in its southern and western countryside crumbled bit by bit. These accelerated events in all parts of Syria did not change the fact that all Syrians were watching the southern neighbourhoods of Damascus, where the rebels entered the famous Al-Midan neighbourhood with its huge demonstrations and next to the Kafr Sousa neighbourhood and its square security building complex.

The sounds of clashes in Kafr Sousa neighborhood and Al-Tadamun neighborhood, especially Daaboul Street, could be heard even in the cities of Eastern Ghouta. The people of Damascus did not sleep that night, as if they knew for sure that the next day a pivotal event would occur after which Syria will not return to what it was before.

From left to right: Hisham Ikhitiyar, Daoud Abdullah Rajha, Assef Shawkat and Hassan Turkmani

The second day, the 18th of July, 2012 at around 2:00 p.m., the official Assad regime television announced an explosion targeting the “Crisis Cell” meeting, which led to the killing of senior Assad regime officials, including Defence Minister General Daoud Abdullah Rajha, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Syrian Army and former Chief of Military Intelligence Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of Bashar Assad, and head of the National Security Bureau Hisham Ikhitiyar. Syria before that day is not the Syria after it.

The explosion, the details of which are not known to this day, immediately led to splits in the ranks of the army and security services because these figures were considered the pillars of the regime and its core. So, who was behind this explosion?

Anyone familiar with the security situation in Syria knows for sure that the location of the meeting is in the heart of the Syrian capital. Insurgents with limited intelligence capabilities could not penetrate this area. Furthermore, the limited amount of damage of the building, only to the conference room, confirms that it was an inside job by Assad’s own direct decision.

But this step, in the light of the expansion of the control by the rebels over various parts of the Syrian geography, the progress they were making in Damascus and the possible defections in the ranks of the regime that could lead to the fall of the cities that were under the control of the Assad regime, especially Damascus, is considered a dangerous gamble. So, what was being planned at the July 18, 2012 meeting that was more dangerous than the fall of Damascus?

In fact, local sources with whom I had personal contact assured me that a kind of tension had developed among the members of the “Crisis Cell” especially when Iran began to push for one of its generals to be present at these meetings under the pretext of security coordination. This was considered unacceptable by some members of the “Crisis Cell” because it would open the way for more Iranian interference in the country.

Indeed, some of these figures had already developed serious relations with Western international powers. Assef Shawkat, during his leadership of the Department of Military Security, built a strong network of relations with Washington in the context of the file of countering al-Qaeda and jihadist organisations after the events of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Western sources confirm Defence Minister General Daoud Rajha’s relations with France and the distinguished relations of Hassan Turkmani, Chief of Staff and Head of the “Crisis Cell” with Turkey. Were these officers planning to move from within against Assad?

Ten years after the explosion against the “Crisis Cell” in the National Security building in Damascus, there is no confirmed piece of evidence that can pinpoint to the perpetrator, as were the assassinations of Kamal Jumblatt, Lt. Gen. Wissam Hassan, journalist Samir Qasir and others in Lebanon. But it is certain that all these events bear the prints of one perpetrator. Assad, who has eliminated many leading figures of his regime, such as Lt. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, is in my personal opinion the one and only to be accused in this game-changer operation.

Eva J. Koulouriotis
Eva J. Koulouriotis
Political analyst specialising in the Middle East with a focus on Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Turkey; jihad and jihadist organisations and Greek-Turkish relations; Contributed to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, The New Arab, Al-Jazeera, Al-Sharq Qatar, Annahar, Orient News, Arab News, Huffington Post Greece, the Greek weekly Paraskinio and RT; Held several positions with the European Union of Women (EUW)


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