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Syria: Sending Arab troops only increase violence – Egyptian “Desert Storm” commander | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Egyptian General Muhammad Ali Bilal, who commanded Egyptian troops during the First Gulf War, described the proposal to send Arab troops to Syria to help halt the violence that has been taking place in the country for more than nine months as being “incorrect”, saying this proposal “has not been correctly studied.” In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the Egyptian “Operation Desert Storm” commander said Arab troops being sent to Syria could serve as a prelude to foreign intervention in the country, and would only escalate the violence. He asked “will the [Arab] troops go to support the Bashar al-Assad regime or to stand with the revolutionaries?” adding “whatever the case, the country will face a dangerous state of violence and division.”

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby confirmed on Sunday that the next Arab League ministerial meeting, which is scheduled to take place on 22 January, will discuss the proposal put forward by Qatar to send an Arab peacekeeping mission to Syria to stop the violence.

General Muhammad Ali Bilal, described this proposal as being “incorrect”, stressing that it has not been studied correctly and could serve as a “prelude to foreign international intervention in Syria.”

The Egyptian general also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Arab troops cannot intervene in an Arab country to protect the regime or secure power in the country, without becoming embroiled in a major conflict with one party or the other; either with the revolutionaries and the political activists, or the Syrian regime and military.

He added “the presence of Arab troops in Syria will put them in an awkward position and result in the question: are they going to support the Bashar al-Assad regime against the Syrian people, or will they support the revolutionaries against the regime?”

He said “whatever the case, this will result in greater violence between all parties, and there will be a great amount of bloodshed as a result of this.”

Drawing on his military experience, General Bilal, who is expected to stand as a candidate at Egypt’s forthcoming presidential elections, said that troops being sent into any country will usually have a specific mission, such as physically serving as a buffer to separate opposing forces, securing vital infrastructure, etc. As for troops being sent into a foreign country to secure peace, the Egyptian general said that in such cases, this is achieved by supporting the regime, not standing with those who are revolting against it.

Using Operation Desert Storm as an example, General Muhammad Ali Bilal said “the mission was to [physically] separate the forces” adding “whilst the mission of the Gulf [Peninsula Shield] forces who entered Bahrain months ago…was to protect the state infrastructure, not to stand between the Bahraini security forces and the demonstrations.” He stressed “all of these cases are different from the situation in Syria.”

General Bilal acknowledged that it would be easy to form and equip an Arab peacekeeping force to enter Syria; however he asserted that difficult questions remain, such as would be in charge of this force. The Egyptian general said that he expected the majority of Arab countries to refuse to take part in any Arab [military] force being sent to Syria, with the exception of one or two countries, like Qatar. He stressed “no country would risk sending armed forces to any other Arab country, because this would have complex political repercussions.”

The Egyptian general added “it would be very difficult for an Arab soldier to confront his [Arab] brother from another state…this would, of course, have a complex psychological impact.”

Bilal also claimed that such a decision could serve as a prelude to international intervention in Syria, as it would serve as a “bridge” to this. He stressed that a political solution – rather than a military one – to the crisis in Syria would be ideal, namely dialogue and agreement between the Syrian regime and opposition to reach a practical solution to the crisis.