Tipping Point? Syrian Pilot Defects to Jordan

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Update: Reuters reports that the Syrian defector will be allowed to stay in Jordon on "humanitarian grounds," according to a Jordanian security official. 

In what appears to be the first defection of its kind, a Syrian fighter pilot has landed at a military base in neighboring Jordan Thursday and has requested asylum, according to Jordanian officials. "The pilot, identified as Col. Hassan Hammadeh, removed his air force tag and kneeled on the tarmac in prayer after landing his plane at King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, Jordan," an anonymous Jordanian official tells the Associated Press. Defecting from the army is one thing—thousands of soldiers have deserted in the last 15 months—but flying off in a blaze of glory makes for quite the symbolic kiss-off. And it appears the pilot had good reason. 

According to Reuters' Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Khaled Yacoub Oweis, the pilot's hometown Kfar Takharim has been hammered by Syrian shelling in the last several months, including artillery barrages and helicopter attacks in the last week. "Opposition sources said Hamada is a 44-year-old Sunni Muslim from Idlib province and he had smuggled his family to Turkey before his dramatic defection."

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It looks like it might be difficult for Syria to shrug this one off, as earlier today State TV reported that a plane flown by the air force colonel went missing during training. As for the rebels, they're not wasting any time to claim a small victory and take credit. The Associated Press reports that Free Syrian Army spokesman Ahmad Kassem says the rebels "had encouraged the pilot to defect and monitored his activity until the jet landed safely in Jordan."  As scholars have noted, the country's strong military has been "entrenched with the state since the Ba’ath takeover in the 70s" making high-level defections a rarity. Is this an outlier or a sign of more defections to come?



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