In his article entitled “The Destruction of Damascus and Aleppo: the Responsibility of the Opposition and its Allies,” [published in An-Nahar on August 2, 2012], author Jihad Zein posed a question of great significance concerning the military work of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), as the armed opposition is known. Zein also highlighted the military nature of the revolution, as opposed to a revolution characterized by popular movements. He also addressed the issue of the FSA taking shelter in districts and neighborhoods within cities, thus exposing these areas and their residents to destruction and mayhem. The article also dealt with the international response to the militarization of the opposition.
The crux of the problem, however, does not lie in this question or any similar questions. The process of questioning and criticizing is at the heart of the revolutionary process, since revolutions by nature entail many risks, errors and problems. Revolutions often result in defeats and setbacks, and history has yet to witness a revolution that is smooth, complete and accomplishes all of its goals. Syria is no exception, and to an extent the revolution’s mission was impossible from the beginning. It was a spontaneous and popular revolution that erupted in the face of dictatorship controlled by a ruling party with ready-made theories. Yet, despite all of the hardships and challenges it has faced, the Syrian revolution continues.
Therefore, although I acknowledge that Zein poses a legitimate question, I believe that it requires multiple answers. Furthermore, a clear cut answer [like the one given by Zein] would dilute the issue's significance. Generally speaking, one cannot discuss the legitimacy of the armed revolution in a single article. Its legitimacy may be or may not be questioned. However, popular and peaceful revolts have proved to be better and more viable in the long term. This is true not because peaceful revolutions are less expensive, which is another important point, but because armed revolutions end up promoting the culture of violence. This would take its toll on the society and entrench memories that might threat the integrity of the co-existence. What’s more, armed revolutions rely on foreigners to provide them with weapons and money, and therefore become depended on them.
Thus, the question is not about the legitimacy of the Syrian revolution. It is rather about the management of armed actions according to the safest and most effective means. In this case, the question did not distinguish between the situations in Aleppo and Damascus.
Following the battles in Damascus, the uprising gained further military momentum in Syria’s rural areas including the villages of Damir, Douma, al-Tall, Zabadani, Rankous, and the eastern and western Ghouta. It is only normal that the armed opposition would seek a vital location in Damascus. And although, the [Jihad Zein] article portrayed Damascus as hitherto calm, it must be noted that the city has been already dragged into the conflict zone since the very first months of the revolution. Throughout the last few months, Damascus’ involvement in the uprising has been growing even wider.
Neighborhoods such as Barzeh, Qaboun, Midan, Mezzeh, al-Hajar al-Aswad [The Blackstone], Tadamon, Harsta, Jdeidet Artouz, Modmiye, Darya, Jobar, Rukn al-Din, al-Muhajirin, Sheikh Mahi al-Din (to a lesser extent), were all hot spots in the Syrian uprising. Nevertheless, the reason behind the absence of these neighborhoods from Damascus square, to demonstrate the power of the civil and peaceful revolution was the regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters since the first weeks of the revolution. This was six months before the establishment of the “National Council” and before the militarization and the defections within the army’s ranks. It is known that from the very beginning, peaceful protesters were faced by utmost violence.
The regime’s Shabeeha and security services cracked down on rebels. This is not to mention snipers, the special units, and the army that used mortars, tanks and helicopters in its attack on rebels, killing and arresting people and leaving bodies and unconceivable wreckage and destruction on the streets.
The reason behind this thorough explanation is to note that the rise of armed opposition in Damascus came as a normal result, unlike the case of Aleppo. What happened in Aleppo can be explained as an attempt or a plan by the opposition to create a new reality and tip the balance of the conflict with the regime to its favor. This is especially true, because after 16 months since the beginning of the revolution, the opposition has lost all hopes of any foreign intervention, including the imposition of safe areas.
Moreover, it must be noted that Aleppo remained removed from the uprising due to certain factors that have hindered the popular movements and not because it was loyal to the regime. This brings us to questioning the validity of the FSA offensive on Aleppo and its decision to gather its forces in the city and wage battles in order to put it under its control Was this choice more feasible that the hit-and-run raids on the government’s soldiers stationed in the city’s outskirts in order to exhaust the regime’s force before seizing control of the city? This decision could have spared Aleppo the onslaught it is facing today.
Although we recognize that with any war or revolution there is a high price to pay, we believe that a better management of human resources and all available forces results in greater achievements with minimal costs.
Thus, questioning the feasibility of the military decision in Aleppo is quite pertinent. However, this requires an appropriate research in order to find out whether the military attack was based on an accurate plan or was it just another risky attempt [at changing the conflict’s equation]?
In fact, in view of the FSA weak military potential and its small arms that are still not match for the regime’s artillery, many still doubt the feasibility of the offensive on Aleppo. The FSA lack anti-aircraft weapons, not to mention that the soldiers are exposed to the regimes’ helicopters and warplanes in the cities where they are taking shelter. The FSA leadership has long complained about their lack of anti-aircraft weapons and its small arms, and about the international decision of not arming the opposition, despite all the hype about a large-scale support of the FSA.
Furthermore, those who have been following up on the FSA military operations can easily notice that its arms are mainly individual and anti-armor weapons. There were hitherto no rocket shelling and no aircraft was downed by any anti-aircraft guns. This explains the FSA withdrawal from certain areas, after being subjected to rocket attacks by air and land.
Thus, is the offensive on Aleppo a result of an international decision to arm the FSA after 16 months of revolution? Has the FSA been provided with anti-aircraft weapons? Has the equation changed at the international and regional levels, which requires a new political scenario and a liberated region? Or is the offensive just another uncalculated risky decision?
Thus, regardless our answers to the previous questions, we must distinguish between the situation of Damascus and Aleppo, particularly in terms of political decision, and the management of military capabilities (regardless of our estimate to the ongoing events). Therefore, Aleppo’s offensive ought to be tackled based on the facts and possibilities surrounding it rather than on its feasibility.
These are answers to the big idea put forward by Jihad Zein. However, I do have some reservation to his statements “where he completely blamed the armed opposition for the wreckage done to Aleppo and Damascus.” However, he recognized that “the regime’s brutality and violence. Syria as a whole is paying a high price for the lack of a peaceful means to replace the regime, unlike the case of Libya and Iraq.” The Syrian opposition might have indeed rushed and taken risk in its offensive on Aleppo, despite the facts that there were other alternatives standing; however, the only party that should be blamed for all the killing and destruction is the party that had the means to commit all that. This party was the reason behind the eruption of the Syrian revolution.