There have been two main interpretations to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's announcement late Monday about the dismissal of Defense Minister Ali Habib and the appointment of Army Chief of Staff Daoud Rajiha instead. Some linked it to the reports circulated recently about the existence of a split within the ruling Alawite sect while others say the move is another desperate attempt by al Assad to rebuff the growing Arab, Islamic and international pressure on his regime.
Ali Habib was born in Tartous in 1939. He joined the Syrian Army in 1959 and graduated from the Military Academy in 1962. He was appointed Chief of General Staff in 2004 and Deputy General Commander of the Army and the Armed Forces and Minister of Defense in 2009.
Some sources link the dismissal of Habib to a recent report by the "New York Times" about a possible coup by Alawite elements, especially as the Habib family is bigger than the family of Bashar al-Assad in the Alawite sect .The newspaper said the Alawis, who make up only 12% of the Syrian population supported al-Assad, mostly for fear that if he is ousted the Alawite sect will be a target for revenge.
The newspaper pointed out that "If prominent Alawite leaders assured to their safety, they may begin to withdraw their support from the Assad family and try their luck with the opposition."
The US daily conveyed that since mid-March and with the growing suppression of the demonstrators, the regime started to get rid of officers and soldiers, who had the potential to join the revolt.