First Signs of Restiveness in Armed Forces

Syria’s top military brass are unhappy. To bring word of their discontent to the attention of President Bashar Assad, the officers have availed themselves of two new media outlets, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Beirut and the Gulf report.

Their main complaint is about Assad’s plan to turn Syria’s professional military into a conscript force by opening the officers’ corps for the first time to candidates from all walks of Syrian life.

Mohammed Bilal Turkmeni, son of Syrian chief of staff, General Hassan Turkmeni, has launched weekly called Black and White. Its first issue on the streets of Damascus carried an unprecedented attack against the heads of the Syrian foreign ministry. The article called it the most fossilized department of government, accusing it of losing its grasp of Syria’s international needs.

Another new weekly appearing on the streets of Damascus is Al Mahawir, or The Axis, which is published in Beirut. It has a license to be sold, but not printed, in Syria. Articles in the first issue sold in Damascus lashed out at the heads of Syrian media outlets, such as state-run television and radio and the country’s most important newspapers. These media and the foreign ministry were blamed for Syria’s “backwardness” on the world scene, “an unforgivable crime against the Syrian people.”

Our sources discovered the weekly’s publishers are family relations of General Turkmeni.

Those articles would never have been run without the sanction of the Syrian military chief. That sanction would not have been granted unless Turkmeni had a bone to pick with the president. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Middle Eastern sources, Syria’s top officers are extremely jumpy about the sweeping reforms Assad is in the process of carrying out in the national political and business systems.

They are watching him pull Syrian troops out of Lebanon after three decades, curtail the Baath party’s centrality in national life, and embarking on currency liberalization together with steps to modernize the banks. The top brass are wondering when it will be their turn to come under the president’s reforming axe. Introduction of conscription is bad enough but it might not be the end.

While the foreign ministry is accused of being an anachronism, the Syrian military is one of the most hidebound institutions in the country. Its chief of staff is 70; most division commanders are older. In no other army do high operational command positions repose in such venerable hands.

The attacks run by the two new weekly publications are meant to warn the president that the military is capable of mobilizing the media against him if he proceeds with reforms of the armed forces arbitrarily and without consultation.

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