Syrian government and rebel groups launch a fresh peace conference in the Kazakh capital of Astana Monday, Jan.23 in freezing temperatures of minus 20 Centigrade. Although the event is jointly sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, Moscow is the real power-broker.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that the delegations on both sides of the table were caught off-balance by the arrival of Bashar Assad’s former close friend, Gen. Manas Tlass, whom Russia flew in from his place of exile in a Gulf emirate to a prominent seat with the opposition delegation.
Gen. Tlass, 53, son of the eminent Gen. Mustafa Tlass, defense minister under President Hafez Assad, was awarded high honors by his son Bashar as one of his closest friends. Although appointed commander of the prestigious 104th Brigade in the Syrian Republican Guard, Manas chose to defect and flee the country in 2012, not long after the outbreak of the Syrian uprising.
Our sources report that Moscow has chosen him as lead player in Syria’s post-Assad era, initially in the transition government in Damascus which is scheduled to start evolving from the peace process kicked off at Astana this week. This does not imply that Bashar Assad will be gone in a day - only that a new mechanism will be put in place to start curtailing his powers.
How quickly and how far this process will unfold cannot yet be determined.
Iran threatens to be one of the main obstacles to any reduction in Assad’s powers. For Tehran, he stands as a bulwark against the expulsion of its own and Hizballah forces from the country. As long as he is in charge, Iran will have the use of a land bridge to Lebanon and its proxy, Hizballah, via Iraq and Syria.
At the same time, Russia, Turkey and the Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia are demanding the removal from Syrian soil of Iranian forces and pro-Iranian Afghan and Pakistani Shiite militias (30,000 fighters in all) as well as the 10,000 Hizballah combatants. READ MORE