20 April 2012

Former Syrian General Akil Hashem Talks Syrian Uprising

In an article from Foreign Affairs, former Syrian General Akil Hashem talks about the uprising in Syria. Excerpts:

If the situation within the Syrian military is so bad, why haven’t there been mass defections?

There is no place for deserters to go within Syria; most have gone to Turkey, which is difficult given the circumstances. The rest of the officers remain because they are largely Alawites, who have functioned as a sort of Swiss Guard for Assad. Alawites make up about ten percent of the Syrian population, and according to my estimation, there are more than 150,000 Alawites in the elite units of the intelligence agencies and of the armed forces. Although the Assad regime cannot rely on Alawites alone, it has packed the intelligence agencies and the military officer core with them -- the Alawite community is poor, with little educational or professional opportunity, and recruiters promise power and money. Families then rely on their sons for their financial livelihood, so you have to triple the number of Alawites directly invested in the regime. Given their investment in Assad, they have largely avoided defecting.

Another reason for the lack of defections is that Assad carefully watches his own forces. The Syrian army has 12 divisions. Of those, the Fourth Division, a particularly loyal outfit, is distributed among them to control them and prevent defection. They literally stand behind the regular forces and among them, a kind of police for the military. Whenever they detect the potential for defection, execution is the only punishment -- right away, without trial.

Where do you see the uprising heading over the next several months?

Assad cannot put down the rebellion. More than 10,000 people have been killed, but there are millions of Syrians participating directly or indirectly in the revolt, so the revolution will continue. That said, the rebels cannot win on their own. If the international community does not intervene, the conflict will persist indefinitely unless there is a military coup, an assassination of Assad or of top members of his regime, or a mass defection among the Alawite sect itself. The battle could continue like this for at least a year, if not longer.

If Western countries were to intervene, what should an intervention look like?

There are four options. The simplest would be airstrikes, similar to the NATO operation against Slobodan Milosevic in 1999. Such a campaign would target the security headquarters of the four major Syrian intelligence agencies: State Security, Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, and the Ministry of Interior. It would also seek to destroy vital military outposts, government infrastructure, and communications systems. The United States and other Western powers could conduct this operation without any casualties, using cruise missiles and drones alone.

The second option is the establishment of a safe zone within Syria. This would require Western air forces to create a no-fly, no-drive zone within a small area in Syria, likely on the Turkish border. This zone would provide safe haven for the Free Syrian Army to regroup, for defectors to seek shelter (particularly those with heavier weapons, such as tanks), and for aid organizations to enter. That alone would turn the political and military situation upside down.

The third option would be the creation of a full no-fly zone over all of Syria. And the fourth option would be a campaign almost exactly like that in Libya, with a no-fly, no-drive zone extending across the entire country and constant airstrikes to contain the movements of the Syrian military.

The likelihood of these last two options is very low, given the political climate in the West. But given the weakness of the Syrian military, any of these four plans would unseat the Assad regime.

By: Brant

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