Feeling exposed, the President of the Syrian Council of Ministers, Riad Hijab, was exfiltrated by NATO to Lebanon on Sunday, August 5, 2012.
The Syrian National News Agency (SANA) reported the event only briefly, merely pointing out that he had been "relieved of his duties."
Syria being a presidential system (like the U.S.), the ministers are appointed directly by the President and a vacancy such as this one does not affect the rest of government. President Bashar al-Assad readily asked one of the four vice-presidents of the Council, Omar Ghalawanji, to step in as President of the Council of Ministers.
The head of the Free "Syrian" Army announced that Mr. Free Hijab had defected together with other ministers. However, Syrian television broadcast full-breadth images of the Cabinet meeting, chaired by Omar Ghalawanji, so that everyone could see that no one was missing. In addition, the Minister of Culture - whose name was cited by a news agency - made a televised statement addressing a separate issue, thereby putting an end to the rumors circulating in the Western press about him.
The betrayal of Riad Hijab is the first in importance since the beginning of the crisis. From Jordan, his spokesman, Hijab Otri Mohamed, said that his boss had already been working in secret to overthrow Bashar al-Assad long before he was appointed President of the Council of Ministers on 23 June.
In Syria, the President of the Council of Ministers coordinates the implementation of domestic policy but has no power over foreign or defense policy, which are the President’s reserved domains.
As in the U.S. constitutional system, the main powers of appointment are held by the President of the Republic, which explains why the President of the Council of Ministers was unable to place his own men in strategic government positions.
At this stage of the investigation, everything would appear to indicate that the failed "Damascus Volcano and Syrian Earthquake" operation was supposed to be a military coup for which Riad Hijab would have provided a civilian cover. Washington and its allies believed that after the decapitation of the military command (attack of July 18), a number of generals and their regiments were going to seize power with the help of mercenaries from Jordan, to be then put in the hands of Mr. Hijab. The State Department would thus have applauded the victory of "democracy".
It is not yet known at what point the security services began to doubt the loyalty of the President of the Council of Ministers. In any case, he had never been questioned and participated as late as yesterday in an official inauguration, but he had not been seen in his office for two days.
Despite having held various positions within the Baath Party, Riad Hijab was not a political leader but a senior official. Former governor of Latakia with an excellent track record as manager, he had been appointed Agriculture Minister and President of the Council of Ministers precisely because, not being tied to any political movement, he had the ideal profile to work for national unity. The facts have shown otherwise. Not being tied to any group, Hijab had no commitments that prevented him from changing sides.
At a press conference, the information minister, al-Omran Zohbi, stressed that, unlike Saudi Arabia, Syria is a state, and that the disappearance of a man can not disturb the running of the state.