Thursday 6 September 2012

Topmost Syrian rebel commander shoots down call for no-fly zone

Gen. Mohammed Hussein Haj Ali

Who needs a no-fly zone?
The general named to head the newly announced opposition Syrian National Army (SNA) sees no need for a military-enforced no-fly zone over Syria.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is to be supplanted by the SNA, and an overwhelming majority of Syrian opposition fighters and activists as well as members of the aid community have been understandably and incessantly calling for a no-fly zone in recent months to level the playing field with President Bashar al-Assad’s air power.
But Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hussein Haj Ali, who as SNA commander becomes the Syrian revolution’s new military top dog (see my post yesterday), tells the leading Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat in an interview published today he is opposed to the creation of a NFZ over Syria or rebel held areas in the country.
He says the measure has more cons than pros. “If we can secure the necessary weapons,” he adds, “we can get rid of this crumbling regime fairly quickly.”
Asked if international players had promised to arm the SNA, Gen. Haj Ali said, “The (major) countries have always wanted to know where the weapons would end up if supplied to the opposition. Accordingly, the change (creating the SNA) will reassure the country-friends of the Syrian people and will reflect positively on the practical steps as to the supply of weapons.”
“My foremost function,” Gen. Haj Ali said,  “is to control these weapons, which so far were handed out at random, and to make sure they are used to defend Syria.”
Following discussions due to end in around 10 days, the FSA would go by the name of the Syrian National Army, FSA Military Council chief Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh tells AFP.
“After a long period, we must restructure the army because we fear the proliferation of militias in Syria and want to preserve the country’s future,” he told the agency.
Among those areas that needed restructuring was the control of funds that reach rebel fighters, in order to “prevent the creation of militias because that is very dangerous,” Sheikh said.
While rebel groups are gathered under the auspices of the FSA, the structure of the rebel army remains vague and lacks a strong and cohesive central command.
“There are many groups that claim to be the FSA but do as they please,” said the general.
He said reforms were key to winning the support of the international community which has so far been reluctant to arm the rebels “on the grounds that the [FSA] is not a real institution.”
Earlier yesterday, SNA commander Gen. Haj Ali told The Guardian’s Mona Mahmood on the telephone:
After thorough consultations with many defected Syrian military in Syria, Turkey and Jordan and strong demands by the Syrian people, we decided to form the Syrian National Army to gather all the active forces on the ground and achieve victory by toppling the regime and form the National Army to represent all the components of the Syrian people by their different sects and background.
We have to unify all these efforts within a military institution similar to other institutions in the world in its administration and organization, and it should not have any political agenda – only to defend Syria. This institution will include anyone holding a weapon in Syria now.
The aims of the Syrian National Army are the toppling of the regime and keeping security in Syria after the fall of the regime and securing a suitable atmosphere to conduct free elections under intentional observation. The party that wins in the election will be in charge of running the state and the military will go back to its barracks and do its usual job. I have done thorough consultations with my colleagues in Syria, Turkey and Jordan – rebels, civilians and military men – and we decided to form the Syrian National Army.
The problem in Syria now is that we have so many factions and formations that are fighting under many names, some of them supported by personnel or groups and they act according to their generic, religious or sectarian affiliation. This is a matter that causes the fragmentation of the resistance and poses a great risk for Syria's future, especially after the toppling of the regime (which will fall definitely).
We have consulted the Free Syrian Army represented by its commander, Colonel Riad al-Asaad, about the formation of the Syrian National Army. They accepted but they put conditions that the name "Free Syrian Army" should stay as it is and work under a joint military command. But this is illogical and unfunctional. We do not want the army to be loose. There is no army in the world called a "free army" – the army should have discipline not be free to do anything.
So, till now the FSA did not join us but they do not represent all the brigades who are fighting on the ground and they are in control of a small area in Syria.
We call upon Colonel Riyadh al-Assad to join the Syrian National Army in order to get the support of the world as a military institution not a personal one.
The Syrian National Army now includes military councils inside Syria, Syrian officers abroad, a few brigades inside, defected officers and civilians. We do not have any agenda and we do not belong to any political party. We want to separate the military institution from any political organizations. It is not a personal project but a national one.
I defected ideologically from the regime a long time ago but was hoping for a political breakthrough or that the regime would accept a political solution – but this did not happen.
No patriotic Syrian man would accept what is happening in Syria now. We have made an oath to defend Syria and its people. We cannot watch all this killing and slaughtering of Syrian people and accept it. The situation in Syria now is horrible and scary.
The Syrian [government] army has turned into a gang that serves the regime, which is represented in one man who is ruling the country now by military force, not by law.