If The Opposition Is An Illusion, Then The Syrian Army Is A Myth
05 November 2015
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
The Syrian army is back in the spotlight again. There have been a number of
recent Russian and Syrian reports on the army's battles against the
opposition in Syria. In reality, the standing army these reports refer to is
actually now made up of a mixture of troops belonging to foreign powers who
are carrying out most of the fighting in Syria on behalf of the Syrian
These foreign parties mainly include members of the Lebanese Shi'ite group
Hezbollah, the Iraqi militia Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq, and Iran's Quds Force. They
also include Afghani Shi'ite militias and others who have been recruited and
trained to serve the Iranian regime's agenda in Syria and other conflict
zones in the Middle East. This is the ''army'' which all those recent
official Syrian government statements refer to, the ''army'' the Russians are
claiming to support through their intervention in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once mocked the Free Syrian Army (FSA),
asking if the group had an official address he could write to. He was of
course attempting to throw doubt as to whether the FSA actually exists,
implying that those fighting Bashar Al-Assad are all terrorists and that
everyone who belongs to the opposition is actually affiliated with the
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda. Two days ago, the
Russian envoy to Saudi Arabia described the Syrian opposition as ''fragile.''
The Saudis confidently responded by asking Moscow to point to the Syrian army
which they claim to be supporting on the ground.
For more than 18 months now, military experts have confirmed that there
remains no trace of this army. Most of its soldiers have either been killed
or have defected. Those who remain meanwhile have been marginalized because
most of them are Sunnis whose loyalty to the regime is thereby questioned. As
such, they are drip-fed with meager fuel and ammunition since the regime
fears they may defect to the opposing camp.
The Syrian regime has thus filled the vacuum by resorting to volunteer
forces—as per the Iraqi style. However, this did not yield any fruitful
results as most of these forces have little training and mainly consist of
youths from minority groups, such as the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs.
In fact many of them have chosen to escape their military service and have
fled outside Syria.
Today, the Syrian army, or Assad's army, mostly comprises forces overseen by
Iranian military leader Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who claims that there are some
100,000 fighters in Syria that are defending the Assad regime.
The opposition FSA also includes different parties and factions, but most of
them are moderate and patriotic. Although it also includes some religious
extremists, they have not been brought from abroad and do not belong to
groups like ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front.
The FSA was mainly born as part of efforts by the Syrian opposition, which
comes under the umbrella of the political coalition council that includes all
of Syria's religious and ethnic groupings: Sunnis, Kurds and Christians, as
well as minorities such as Alawites, Druze and Turkmen, have all served in
leading positions. However, Assad, whom the Russians and the Iranians are
defending, no longer represents anyone, not even his small Alawite sect—upon
which he inflicted the biggest massacre in their history when he forced their
sons to engage in the fighting during the last four horrific years.
You may have Syrian traffic police in Damascus; however there is no such
thing as the ''Syrian army''—at least not in the sense which the Russians
have been using the term. Even their Iranian allies avoid using the term
''Syrian army,'' as they now consider the Syrian armed forces to be made up
of their own fighters.
When the different parties involved in the struggle in Syria—the Gulf states,
Turkey, Russia, the United States, and Europe—talk about the future role of
the Syrian army and the security forces, they are only referring to symbolic
concepts of official state institutions. There are now no more than a few
thousand soldiers and a few hundred officers and generals left in the Syrian
army, which was once made up of around 250,000 soldiers.
However, it is not only the Syrian army which has disappeared. During the
past four years of the war, the structure of the security forces'
institutions and intelligence apparatuses, which were once described as being
among the strongest in the world, have been dismantled. As such, Moscow and
Tehran must stop trying to paint a false picture regarding what is happening
in Syria; the truth is no longer a secret, with all the different groups
involved being open regarding this. The reality is that right now in Syria
there is no state, no system, no legitimate president, no security forces,
and no army.
Above all, the Iranians—and not the Russians—are the biggest winners from
Russian involvement in Syria, which is mainly targeting Syrian opposition
forces and not terrorists like ISIS as Moscow claims.
The Russians are trying to create a balance by eliminating the armed Syrian
national opposition so that the world—especially Turkey and the Gulf
states—is forced to support the so-called regime in Damascus in order to
fight foreign fighters belonging to ISIS and other terrorist groups. This is
the result that will finally serve the interests of Iran, which by then will
have seized Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, next setting its sights on the Gulf
Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the
former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly
magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers
of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass
communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He
is currently based in Dubai.