Is it time for an alternative Syrian army?
The idea of forming a Syrian opposition army is long overdue, but proposing it now is more suitable than ever. The situation now requires the establishment of a new Syrian army that will represent all Syrians, not just one sect or religion, and will not be affiliated with any country or mercenary in the region.
Syria needs an army that represents all Syrians, re-establishes the state, imposes order and operates under international legitimacy. The biggest threat to Syrians today is the emergence of an Iranian army on their soil, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and composed of militias from Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and troops from the IRGC’s Quds Force.
This is a direct threat as Iranians could stay there for a long time. Two US Congressmen sent letters to the US secretaries of state and defense warning them that Iran is planning to use its presence in Syria to build military bases along the Mediterranean.
There is no longer an opposition Free Syrian Army like the one we knew. It disintegrated into smaller groups after being targeted by Iran, Russia, Daesh, Al-Nusra Front and others. This is why we are discussing the establishment of a new Syrian army. The incentive is a political solution and to help plan safe zones for refugees. The idea also derived from some countries’ desire to form a force that fights terrorist groups that have infiltrated opposition-held areas.
In addition, establishing a military power is a requirement to recognize the opposition’s role in the new project of governance, as it cannot live under the shadow of President Bashar Assad’s army.
Thousands of military defectors, who refused to kill their fellow Syrians and left the Syrian army, could be the foundation of the new army.
The need is for a new Syrian army that ends the chaos resulting from the deployment of dozens of militias, and unifies armed opposition groups under one flag and leadership. Thousands of military defectors, who refused to kill their fellow Syrians and left the Syrian army, could be the foundation of the new army.
Everyone needs this army, not just Syrians. They need an army that fights terrorist groups threatening Syria, the region and the world, confronts Iran’s army and its militias if they refuse to leave Syria, and clears the country of all hostile regional players such as Turkish Kurds and Daesh in Iraq. In the case of a political agreement, the new Syrian army could be complementary to the regime’s Arab Syrian Army, which has become weak.
A political solution is useless if not preceded by a project that establishes army and security entities first and foremost. The opposition does not trust the regime, and wants a military power to protect the areas under its control and represent it within a political solution. When other countries insist on ridding Syria of all foreign fighters, the regime will insist on the use of Iranian militias unless a national army is formed to do the job.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.