Mohammed Nasif Khayrbik, a senior Syrian government security official close to the Assad family, died on Sunday morning after a long illness, state media said.
The notion he died of illness should be accepted with a grain of salt. The Assad regime is experiencing internal feuds and pressure it seems unable to contain.
Khayrbik was a key confidante to the Assad family the Syrian opposition called the “Silver Fox” for his cunning and astuteness.
Syria’s silver fox was the target of EU and U.S. sanctions for his alleged role in putting down anti-government demonstrations and interfering in neighboring Lebanon.
“The presidency announces the death this morning of retired general Mohammed Nasif Khayrbik, deputy vice-president of the republic, after a long illness,” Syrian state television said.
Khayrbik’s ties to Syria’s ruling family go back to the days of Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father and predecessor as president. Syria’s silver fox was an adviser to him, and oversaw ties with Iran, and well as U.S.-Syrian relations.
He remained close to the presidential palace after Bashar Assad succeeded his father, and in the 1990’s served as chief of the country’s internal security.
In 2005, Syria’s silver fox was named vice-president for security affairs.
In 2007, he was targeted by U.S. sanctions for allegedly aiding efforts by Damascus “to undermine Lebanese democracy.”
And in May 2011, after security forces moved to put down protests against Assad’s regime, Khayrbik was among the officials added to an EU travel ban and asset freeze list.
The death of Syria’s silver fox will be felt immediately, It weakens the Assad regime considerably and leaves a vacuum Assad will be unable to fill again.
AFP contributed to this article.