MESOP Opinion: The Plan to Eliminate the Free Syrian Army

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed – Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed is the general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat

12-12-2013 – For the past 12 months, Bashar Al-Assad’s regime has been focused on the idea of defeating the armed opposition by resorting to military power. It thus strengthened its capabilities by acquiring more weapons and using the help of fighters from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. This is why battles have stalled and the regime has succeeded in remaining in governance for the entire year.

Despite all the massive support the Syrian regime received, it failed to defeat the opposition which is still competing for control of the rest of the country’s cities, and which once again has besieged the capital and blocked the road to the airport. Practically, the regime’s plan failed and it is no longer easy for its Iranian and Russian allies to send more troops and arms as there is no hope on the horizon. The fall of Assad is simply a matter of time. The only question is how long the war will be prolonged and how much its humanitarian and material costs will increase.

The new strategy is not to fight the Free Syrian Army—which has represented the backbone of the Syrian revolution for more than two years—but sabotage it from the inside. A competing group dubbed the “Islamic Front” suddenly emerged, distancing itself from other extremist Islamic groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Al-Nusra Front. Then three FSA leaders, along with their battalions, Ahmad Issa Al-Sheikh, Zahran Allouch and Saddam Al-Jamal, announced that they defected from the FSA. Statements that Saddam al-Gamal defected because he was dissatisfied with Gulf support were attributed to him but we could not authenticate them.

These defections, whether they are real or part of a propaganda campaign, express an attempt to nullify the only military power which represents the Syrian revolution. The FSA is also the only power which has been fighting non-stop for 30 months.Other parties, whether groups or battalions, do not represent the revolution because they are either individual parties, which represent neighborhoods or areas in revolt, or an extension of terrorist groups like ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front which are an extension of Al-Qaeda which operates in Iraq, Yemen and Somalia and which the Assad regime previously used in Iraq and Lebanon during the past decade.

This is the new scene in Syria. There are those who defected from the FSA and there’s the Islamic Front, the establishment of which was announced at a time when the regime’s weakness was clear. The question is: Can these defectors, new factions of Islamists and Al-Qaeda terrorists beat the Assad regime together? Absolutely not. But they are capable of sabotaging the FSA—the revolution’s backbone.

Actions like targeting the city of Maaloula, abducting nuns and taking over the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey after fighting with the FSA are not part of a war with the Assad regime. At a time when all the belligerent parties are preparing to negotiate over Syria’s future at the Geneva II conference, we see that the FSA has a target on its back with a weapon pointed in its direction.

The story, in brief, is that Syria is a country suffering under a fascist security regime. During a brave moment, the people revolted against this regime and millions of Syrians, whether dead, injured or displaced, paid a high price for the sake of change.

Abdul Rahman 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 Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.