Friday, September 2, 2011

Moscow Concerned…About The Syrian Army

By Hassan Haidar 

The visit of Russian Envoy Bogdanov to Damascus to convey Medvedev’s urgent request to see Bashar al-Assad immediately pulling out the military units from the Syrian cities, leading them back to the barracks, discontinuing the violence against the demonstrators and setting a timetable for the reforms, coincided with the escalation of the divisions within the ranks of the Syrian army, although this defection is still limited and rarely includes high-ranking officers. Still, they are enough to concern the Russian ally, whose military experts deployed on the Syrian soil are conveying a pessimistic image of the situation and warning against the expansion of the disgruntlement and the military rebellion which could quickly turn into a civil confrontation.

The Russian message did not mark a change in Moscow’s quasi-absolute support of Al-Assad. But in addition to it being an attempt to eliminate the weak points affecting its defense of the Syrian president – especially in international forums – and lift the embarrassment whenever it refuses to condemn the killings and arrests he is undertaking, it relays Russia’s increasing concerns toward the excessive use of the armed forces, knowing that the continuation of the Russians’ presence and influence in this country are linked to these forces’ unity, stability and armament.
In reality, the mobile military campaign carried out by the Syrian army to deter the opposition’s actions in the main cities and in the countryside, is revealing its weak points and exposing it to several possibilities. At this level, many cases of defection were registered during the past week in Deir ez-Zor, Idlib, the Rif, Homs and on the outskirts of Damascus, at a time when the nucleus of the “free officers” organization started surfacing for the first time ever. Other cases of defection had been registered at the beginning of the uprising but were immediately nipped in the bud. Those behind them were liquidated and the “armed men” were said to have been responsible for this liquidation, just as it happened in Daraa.

Although the regime has so far chosen to rely on selected units whose loyalty is guaranteed to carry out the major military operations, it cannot continue deploying them and moving them between the regions once it becomes clear that the orders issued to them to shoot the unarmed demonstrators are threatening their unity and increasing the possibility of the elements’ refusal to move forward when they figure out they are not fighting “armed gangs.”
As for the use of the Syrian army to carry out internal repression, it is a double-edged sword. This is firstly due to the fact that this army’s permanent deployment – when there are no demonstrations – means a daily contact with the people, i.e. their families, which will alleviate the impact of ideological mobilization and the one based on sloganeering to which they are constantly subjected when in the barracks. This is especially true when it turns out that the “orders” issued to them to deter “the terrorists” do not rely on accurate information, thus pushing toward additional defections and rebellions. It is secondly due to the fact that while the overreliance on the army to protect the regime and prevent its collapse has been fruitful, it will mean that the political institution might later on find itself in a weak position vis-à-vis the armed forces after it used to lead them. In other words, if the army saves the regime from the people now, who will save the regime from the army later on? This features the possibility of seeing Syria return to the times of consecutive military coups that were witnessed in the fifties and sixties.

And while the Syrian regime is wagering on time to muzzle the opposition and stop the protests, the opposition is also wagering on that same factor to induce change at the level of the military institution’s behavior, thus leading to its neutralization, or at the very least to the retreat of its involvement in the defense of the regime, and give it options other than the blind upholding of the one-party theory.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 01/09/2011

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