The White House said on Monday that the defection of Syria's prime minister showed that President Bashar al-Assad's government was “crumbling from within”, Reuters reported.
“This is a sign that Assad's grip on power is loosening. If he cannot maintain cohesion within his own inner circle, it reflects on his inability to maintain any following among the Syrian people that isn't brought about at the point of a gun,” White House spokesman Jay Carney was quoted as having told a news briefing.
“The momentum is with the opposition and with the Syrian people. It's clear that these defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government and Assad cannot restore his control over the country because the Syrian people will not allow it,” he added.
The latest defection “only reinforces that the Assad regime is crumbling from within and that the Syrian people believe that Assad's days are numbered,” Carney said.
In one of the highest-profile desertions from Damascus, Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab on Monday fled the country. While not part of Assad's inner circle, his departure provides a powerful morale boost to the opposition.
U.S. intelligence officials expect pro-Assad and opposition forces to be in the fight for the long haul and are not predicting a near-term end to the Syrian conflict, but officials told Reuters the defections are making a dent.
“It stands to reason that mounting defections are taking a psychological toll on the regime,” a U.S. official told the news agency on condition of anonymity. “There's probably a range of motivations for why people are breaking with Assad, from self-preservation to an inability to tolerate his ruthless tactics.”
“The impact of defections on regime stability will depend in part on the role these people play in the opposition,” the official said. “And with the heat on the regime rising, Assad may be starting to wonder about the loyalty of some in his inner circle.”
On Sunday, Al Arabiya reported that a senior Syrian intelligence officer had defected to Jordan. The report said Colonel Yarub Shara was head of the Damascus branch of Political Security, an intelligence organization responsible for monitoring and suppressing dissent.
The uprising against Assad has resulted in several defections of senior officials in his regime. One of the most senior defectors from Assad's rule is Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general who was a leading member of Assad's inner circle.
Tlas, a member of the most powerful Sunni family in Syria, is the son of a long-serving former defense minister, Mustafa Tlas. Several Syrian ambassadors have defected as well.