A report by Russian experts, which discussed the current state of the Assad regime, expressed concerns about the power of the President who is becoming exhausted and his losing power, as the strength of the Iranian militias increases.
The report, entitled “The Tiger Forces – The Only Hope for Damascus”, was published by the Independent Center for Foreign Economic Policy Studies in Istanbul (EDAM), in December 2018.
The report concluded that if, “peace is to be maintained in Syria, the army must be rebuilt,” and suggested that Suhail al-Hassan, who is known as ‘The Tiger’, should be put in charge of the army, while pointing out that Iran would stand against him.
The report says that Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran, has been able to recover a lot of land, but said that, “the apparent stability in Syria is deceitful, because the army has become destructive and ineffective, with corruption and nepotism among the officers.”
The Russian experts pointed out that the regime’s army has lost its credibility and criticized the low salaries given to Assad’s forces, with a soldier’s salary reaching only 81 dollars a month, while fighters in the Iranian backed militias, receive 131 dollars a month.
According to the report, these militias, which involved businessmen such as Rami Makhlouf, have limited the losses of the army and prevented the impact of defections in its ranks.
According to the report, there are 100,000 fighters in Assad’s army.. In fact, only 20,000 to 30,000 troops are ready to fight in hot spots, except for the Fourth Division, Republican Guards, and the Fifth Corps.
The authors of the report suggest that the commander of the Tiger Forces, Suhail al-Hassan, who the experts described as, “successful, not within the Syrian army but as an independent unit”, is the most suitable officer to take command of the army.
But as a result of the circumstances in Syria, the experts foresaw the possibility of him being removed. The report said that Russia depends on Hassan being known among the Alawite officers, and in the Fifth Corps, and became an equivalent of Maher Assad. Above that, he is very close to Moscow.
According to the report, in the light of Russian support, Hassan can take control. But other Russian views see this as being difficult because of resistance of Fourth Division led by Maher al-Assad, who wouldn’t agree to be under Hassan’s command. Moreover, Iran would not agree, even though Hassan enjoys the support of the country’s security agencies.
The report also focused on the Iranian military’s incursion in Syria. It pointed out that Tehran has been empowering its militias in light of the weak center of power and the weakness of the regime’s army, similarly to what it did in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. It is achieving this by building a militia group in Syria in cooperation with Hezbollah.
The Russians on the other hand, according to the report, are seeking to consolidate, “the pillars of the state and open a dialogue to resolve the Syrian issue,” adding that, “Russia needs to work to rebuild the army by building a coherent chain of command, and this requires pressure on the Iranian security officers who oversee their Syrian counterparts, in order to restrict the Iranian militias.” Russia does not intend to do this openly but by rebuilding the regime’s army, which will determine in what direction the country will go.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.