In recent weeks, a significant development has unfolded in Syria under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad. A series of laws relating to the military institution were issued in quick succession, sparking a wave of speculation about their underlying motives and broader implications.
At the core of these reforms, as described by Major General Ahmed Suleiman, Director of the General Administration of the Ministry of Defense in the Assad government, is the ambition to establish a “qualitative, advanced, professional army.” This initiative shrouded in secrecy, marks a departure from the regime’s traditional military strategies, emphasizing discretion in its execution.
However, military analysts and former officers express skepticism, viewing these rapid legal changes as strategic maneuvers by the Assad regime to consolidate resources and restructure the army. These reforms arrive in the wake of substantial challenges faced by the Syrian military, including defections and a decline in recruitment for compulsory and reserve service.
Central to these reforms are several pivotal decisions. Firstly, a “general amnesty” decree was issued, pardoning crimes of internal and external desertion. This was closely followed by revised volunteer recruitment policies, now offering substantial financial incentives and stringent eligibility criteria, including a requirement for five years of Syrian citizenship and age limits.
This new volunteer framework promises significantly higher salaries than those of conventional state institutions, with additional allowances and bonuses for combat missions and transportation. This stark salary disparity reflects the regime’s urgent need to bolster its military ranks.
In a parallel move, Bashar al-Assad authorized a substantial cash allowance for reserve military service for individuals over 40, further incentivizing military participation. Additionally, the regime has made administrative changes, notably dissolving and merging various military departments, hinting at a broader restructuring process.
These developments, however, raise questions about the regime’s ability to sustain such financial commitments amidst an ongoing economic crisis. While the aim appears to be the integration of local militia elements into the army and the recruitment of new personnel, particularly young individuals, experts like Mohsen Al-Mustafa from the Omran Center for Strategic Studies and Brigadier General Ahmed Rahhal question the feasibility of these plans given the current economic constraints.
Moreover, these reforms are seen as part of a larger strategy to “militarize society” and secure the loyalty of military personnel, a crucial factor for the regime’s sustainability. The Assad regime’s ability to finance these initiatives relies heavily on its capacity to print currency and impose fees, exacerbating inflation within the country.
Beyond domestic objectives, these military reforms are also interpreted as a response to regional demands, particularly those from Arab nations seeking a restructuring of Syria’s security and military apparatus. This interpretation aligns with the regime’s efforts to present a facade of reform and professionalism to meet external expectations, despite the reality of its limited capacity for effective change under current conditions.
In summary, these latest developments in Syria’s military framework signify a strategic shift by the Assad regime, driven by a combination of internal challenges and external pressures. The efficacy and long-term impact of these reforms remain to be seen, as they unfold within the complex tapestry of Syrian politics and regional dynamics.
This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.