Could a military council lead Syria’s transition to peace?

Sunday 24/07/2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

DAMASCUS - With Washington and Moscow having reached an under­standing on how to get Syria’s peace process on track, reports of a Syr­ian military council to lead the war-torn country during a political transition have surfaced.
The plan, still in early stages, provides for a council that would include equal numbers of senior of­ficers who defected from the army and those still in service.
As a July 30th UN deadline draws closer for the beginning of political transition in Syria, the proposed council would be announced at the end of August, according to Turkey-based opposition sources.
One source, who refused to be identified, said the council would lead Syria for nine months while preparations were made for par­liamentary and presidential elec­tions.
“The main reason for setting up the military council is to end the confusion and dispersal of the Syr­ian opposition, both politically and militarily,” the source said. “The United States and Russia have reckoned that the best solution is to form a council that will include influential members who would be accepted by both sides and whose key task will be to unify ranks and stop the fighting.”
Another source said, if the council is endorsed by all parties at meetings that Washington and Moscow plan to have with their respective allies, “it is the only [re­maining] alternative for preserving what is left of the Syrian state insti­tutions, especially the army.”
Opposition sources said in addi­tion to efforts to create the military council, several committees were designing a new Syrian constitu­tion to guide general and presiden­tial elections during the transition­al period.
“The council’s top priority will be to fight the Islamic State and [al- Qaeda’s affiliate] al-Nusra Front and to provide assurances to all other factions joining the nation­al army, which will be reformed and restructured,” one source ex­plained.
Two candidates were mentioned as potential leaders of the coun­cil, the sources said. One is Manaf Tlass, the 52-year-old son of for­mer Defence minister Mustafa Tlass and former general of the Syrian Republican Guards who defected from the Syrian Army in 2012. Tlass, a Sunni, is deemed ac­ceptable to defectors and service officers.
The second candidate is former Defence minister Ali Habib, 77, who stepped down in 2011 when he refused to turn guns against his own people. Habib, an Alawite, would be acceptable to most oppo­sition forces as well as those inside Syria.
Damascus-based political sourc­es stressed that the purported Syr­ian military council as imagined would not be accepted by Syrian authorities.
“It is totally impossible that they will agree unless they are under military pressure, which is not the case, after they achieved progress on the Aleppo front and imposed a siege on the rebel-held area of the city,” said one of the sources, who also declined to be named.
“The authorities might agree only under a different formula. They will never accept to have a defecting officer (Tlass) at the head of the council nor Habib because of his heath conditions,” the source explained.
“They might go along with a structure similar to the 2012 cabi­net in which representatives of the ‘interior opposition’ are included and this will be the maximum con­cessions that the Syrian authorities will make at the moment.”
Moscow-based Syrian political analyst Taha Abdel Wahed argued that the Russians “are effectively discussing the plausible formation of a Syrian military council as they have always been hinting to the need to organise the transitional period in a way to preserve the Syr­ian state institutions.”
“The military council is real but its formation would take shape at a later stage of inter-Syrian [peace] negotiations and there is no doubt that concerned regional and inter­national powers will have a say on its structure and the identity of its members,” Abdel Wahed said.
He contended that the reported US-Russian agreement on military intelligence cooperation to fight terrorist groups in Syria is a long-time Russian demand and that the Americans have undoubtedly re­ceived something in return from Moscow.
“The [deal] won’t be limited to putting pressure on the Syrian re­gime to end hostilities but prob­ably pressure Damascus to accept a political solution, which explains [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov’s declarations that Wash­ington and Moscow will take con­crete steps to put Syria’s peace pro­cess back on track,” Abdel Wahed said.
Syria’s Kurds appeared to be not included, as affirmed by Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Kurd­ish-led Syrian Democratic Forces which controls large parts of north­ern Syria. “No one contacted us about the so-called Syrian military council, which we do not recognise at all,” Darwish said.
Ankara-based diplomatic sourc­es contend that the Kurds would be part of the council on condition they give up their project of a fed­eration in future Syria.