Armies should be tools of defense, not oppression
Armies fall into two loose categories. There are those whose prime objective is to defend their soil and people from foreign aggression, and those that prioritize defense of the leadership and state institutions against civil uprisings. Some will willingly use lethal force against demonstrators, whereas others line up with the people against the government.
Commanders that dedicate their weapons to the preservation of despotic leaders, keen to hang onto their seats in perpetuity within the Arab world, have often been drawn from the military and ensure that other commanders and officers receive grossly inflated paychecks, subsidized housing, dedicated leisure facilities, private family clubs and comfortable pensions, sometimes equivalent to two-thirds of their final salaries. In other words, the upper echelons of the army know where their bread is buttered; their loyalties bought and paid for.
Besides being wholly unethical, the system produces fat cats, elites whose love for their countries has been eroded by greed and who view the masses as potential enemies threatening their superior lifestyles. When threatened, they protect their benefactor at all costs, even if that means turning their guns on peaceful protestors.
Or, if their country is invaded, rather than offer their blood to defend it, they accept carrots from the invading parties to surrender their arms, which, sad to say, high-ranking officers in Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Republican Guard did in 2003, lured by cash, US residency or high posts in any future government.
In the case of Daesh’s grab of Mosul, Iraq’s army, which is dominated by Shiites with Iranian loyalties and whose commanders were selected because of their sectarian loyalties rather than their experience, shamefully fled when faced with a few thousand terrorists, and even today require assistance from US "advisers" and airpower, Shiite militias and Kurdish Peshmerga to free the terrorized population.
Iran has a long history of using its Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as government-backed militias such as the Basij, to quell demonstrations. The Shah’s military was unleashed onto the streets to crush massive protests in 1963 and again in 1979. The Revolutionary Guard was aggressively utilized to put an end to the hopes of the country’s Green Movement in 2009, despite protests involving hundreds of thousands, and stifled smaller demonstrations in 2011.
Iranian forces are structured to deal with both social uprisings and external aggression, while Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have been the regime’s oppressive arm for over 30 years.
“The Guard has evolved and built a powerful military-industrial-financial complex. And they have not limited themselves to the normal economy. The IRGC has expanded Iran’s underground economy and its own control over it, building a mafia cartel in the process,” writes Saeed Ghasseminejad in Business Insider.
Iran’s forces are not the only ones in the region enjoying control over a substantial percentage of their nation’s economy.
During the heady "Arab Spring" era, Syria’s army was steadfastly on the side of a regime that is arguably more brutal than Saddam’s and, with few exceptions — defectors who spearheaded the Free Syrian Army — remains so.
Writing under the heading “Assad’s officer ghetto: Why the Syrian Army remains loyal,” Kheder Khaddour asserts that the sectarian affiliation (Alawite) of the officer core is not the central factor, but the system of housing and benefits that comes at “a steep cost”. “Protecting a beneficial system, rather than adhering to strict ideological loyalty, is what has kept the Syrian officer corps largely intact,” he writes. It is a similar story in Lebanon, whose military has been infiltrated by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah.
Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who rose up through the army’s ranks, used the same playbook in the belief the army would keep him in power while, at the same time, stashing a fortune of up to $62 billion in 20 countries, according to a panel of United Nations experts. Under pressure, he agreed to step down, but never gave up on his ambitions, bolstered by loyalist army units, tribal leaders and Houthi militias undeterred by the destruction of the Arab world’s poorest country.
I have long urged Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) heads of state to strengthen and unify their military forces solely for the purposes of self-defense, and particularly when Iran’s mask hiding its aggression has fallen off and the need to protect our neighbourhood from Daesh and other terrorist groups is greater than ever.
Our military personnel are characterized by their sincere love for the country and their overriding wish to protect their families and countrymen. I have often been in awe at their bravery and dedication, and have been deeply saddened by the loss of each and every one of those we lost as they were fighting to save our brothers and sisters in Yemen.
Gulf militaries rank high among the world’s most honorable, armies that would never be seduced to abandon their duties or driven to fight alongside an army such as Syria’s, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children, and known to have killed civilians with chemical weapons.
In my view, any Arab state that links arms with the Assad regime or any other that uses lethal force to subdue its own people should be diplomatically sidelined by the GCC and deprived of financial assistance, else we will be placed in the untenable position of being indirectly complicit in Bashar Assad’s crimes. That position should be widely aired to give any Arab country tempted to do so time to reflect.
“Choose your friends wisely; they will make or break you,” advised American hotelier and entrepreneur J. Willard Marriott. A pearl of wisdom indeed! As I have said many times before, we require transparency from our "allies". Are they on the same page? Are they with us or against us? These questions demand immediate answers in these uncertain times.
— Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view