Assad was behind Golan breach, US experts agree

“It’s almost a cliché – this is what he always does. He’s under pressure at home, so he deflects attention,” Syria scholar says.

By OREN KESSLER
May 18, 2011 02:41
2 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad

assad speech 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Damascus was almost certainly behind Sunday’s mass breaching of the Golan Heights security fence, according to two prominent Washington- based scholars with extensive experience on Syria.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he has no doubt the Bashar Assad regime orchestrated the infiltration, which left one Syrian dead and dozens wounded.

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“There’s no question. You can’t get anywhere near that fence without the Syrian army’s permission,” he said by phone from the US capital.

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“It’s almost a cliché – this is what he always does. He’s under pressure at home, so he deflects attention,” Tabler said. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, “it was by rallying the people around resistance to Israel, and this time it’s with the Palestinian cause. This is not going to work.

“It’s going to be hard from him to put the genie back in the bottle,” Tabler continued, echoing the phrase used by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin last week.

“The problem is, the bottle he’s trying to put it back into is leaking, and the stopper he has isn’t big enough,” said Tabler, who spent several years working in Syria as a journalist and met the country’s now-embattled president on several occasions.

Tony Badran – an expert on Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – recalled an interview Assad cousin and crony Rami Makhlouf gave The New York Times last week warning that the ongoing Syrian unrest would have dire consequences for Israeli security.

Just a few days later, Badran said, “you see the Syrians opening the floodgates, essentially busing in Palestinians from refugee camps that have significant penetration by Syrian intelligence. They brought them all to the border with Israel to show Israel, ‘This is what you can look forward to if something happens to the Syrian regime.’” In a media conference call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, Badran said the march on the Lebanese border the same day was also most likely coordinated by Damascus.

He said Palestinians living in towns entirely controlled by Hezbollah “were bused in and put on the border to send the same message...

The consensus that’s emerging is that this was a plain security message to the Israelis and to the world at large: ‘If you push us against the wall, this is what you can look forward to – we’re going to light up all the fronts.’ “We’re seeing a decades-old tactic by the Arab regimes which is the use of Palestinians – and in the case of Syria, the use of Lebanon as a territory – as proxies to maintain either the continuity of the regime’s own survival or the projection of power by Arab and non-Arab regimes, like the Iranians today,” Badran said.

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