Hassan Hassan writes: Profound divisions within the regime over the role of Iran continue to take a toll on Mr Al Assad. Sources I have spoken to reveal how the regime is facing a real challenge of military leadership, especially in northern and southern Syria.
Long-standing Alawite officers believe that they, along with their family members, have built Syria’s security and military institutions over decades. When Iranian and Hizbollah officers started to take a lead role in the conflict in 2011, many of those officers felt alienated. While such tensions do not always bring action, such discontent is becoming more obvious as generals leave their jobs to sit at home or leave the country. Many of them blame the president for mismanaging the conflict and for empowering Iranian and Hizbollah operatives at the expense of the army generals.
The sources say that high-level army leadership that commanded the military for decades is now almost non-existent. Instead, the regime replaced them with lower-ranking officers who had little experience and so became reliant on Hizbollah and the Iranians. Since the conflict began, scores of officers have exited the stage – either killed in action, assassinated, defected or because they simply preferred to stay on the sidelines. Some other officials have left the country.
Even though such officials oppose the president’s policies, most of them have not sided with the opposition or gone public about their discontent. When asked why such officers do not organise to replace Mr Al Assad, one source, who does not hide his contempt for the opposition, said the officers prefer to disengage from politics as “organising requires massive resources and is highly risky”. While officers are opposed to Iranian dominance, that does not mean they necessarily look for a change from outside the inner circle. The main concern, for some of them, is that the army is crumbling in favour of militias and those backed by Iran, which will consequently mean the regime is unsustainable. [Continue reading…]