In southern Syria, the uprising against President Bashar Assad is continuing. On
Wednesday, six people, including a doctor from a prominent local family, were
killed when the security forces entered the Omari mosque in Daraa. Later in the
day, security forces fired live ammunition at people protesting these killings,
leading to a number of additional deaths. Thursday’s death toll was far higher.
Accurate figures for the number now killed in Daraa are impossible to
Following the killings in the mosque, the Assad regime’s official
media began to spread a somewhat surreal version of events. The official Sana
news agency quoted an “official source” as saying an “armed gang” had attacked a
medical team in an ambulance near the mosque. The armed gang, according to the
source, was also responsible for the stockpiling of weaponry in the Omari
Sana noted the determination of the security forces to continue
their pursuit of “the armed gangs which terrify civilians, and execute
killings.” The report went on to note that “more than 1 million SMS” messages
had been sent out – “mostly from Israel” – which were “inciting” Syrian citizens
to use the mosques as launch pads for riots. Sana’s official source also noted
that SMS messages had been sent to Syrian citizens abroad threatening to kill
them if they reported the crimes of the armed gangs. So far, so
THE CLUMSY propaganda of the regime’s mouthpieces at first
glance might seem to have something pathetic about it. The “Syria Revolution
2011” page is on Facebook, updating every few minutes with fluent, impassioned
News and rumors of events in Banias, Aleppo, Deraa and its
surrounding villages spread across the globe at the touch of a button. The most
that the Assad regime can manage by way of information warfare, meanwhile, is this
absurd, clunky, Ceausescu-style finger pointing.
Talking to Syrian
oppositionists, the sense that the Assad regime is running out of options is
indeed very strong. Some say the prospect of a “Hama rules” style
bloodbath is now simply a bogeyman, a bluff on the part of a regime running out
of steam. One veteran member of Syrian’s exiled opposition noted that the people
of Syria had lost their fear. This meant the fall of the Assad regime
could now only be a matter of time, whatever measures it took.
the undoubted aesthetic inferiority of the Assad regime’s information campaigns,
however, it would be a major mistake to start dusting off the eulogies for the
Alawite/Ba’athist family dictatorship in Damascus just yet.
This may be
the first time Bashar Assad has faced concerted internal opposition, but it is
not the first time his regime has looked on the ropes. In 2004, when the
Americans entered Baghdad, there were many who predicted the demise of the Assad
Syria was forced into a humiliating withdrawal from
Lebanon in 2005.
What followed was a deft campaign by Syria of ruthless
political violence, mobilization of proxies, intimidation and burgeoning
alliance with Iran which has led, five years later, to a resurgence by the
regime, riding high for the last two years. Assad did not accept what
looked like the verdict of history in 2004/5. There is no reason to suppose he
will meekly do so now.
The “toolbox” the Syrian regime utilized in the
2005-8 period served it well. It still possesses it. This same box of tricks is
the common property of the various members of the Iran-led Muqawama (resistance)
bloc in the region, which includes the Hamas enclave in Gaza, Hezbollah’s
Lebanon and Iran itself.
Recent events suggest that this set of options
is currently being utilized by various members of this bloc to telling
effect. Its members believe these methods will not only succeed in
insulating them from any internal fallout from the Arab spring, but will also
enable them to press forward, making gains from enemies weakened by the internal
The Iranian hyperactivity of recent weeks fits this pattern –
the weapons ships, the convoys in Sudan, the arms-laden planes intercepted on
their way to Syria.
Hamas, too, appears to want to change the subject of
the conversation in Gaza by provoking a new fight with Israel.
the camp of which Assad is a part. These are its methods.
has even been speculation on Arabic websites regarding a possible Syrian angle
to the bombing in Jerusalem. Islamic Jihad and the smaller secular terror groups
are domiciled in Damascus, after all. And Syria, too, has an interest right now
in changing the subject of regional focus.
Impossible to know, of course.
But not impossible.
SEEN FROM this point of view, the events and messages
of the week in Syria no longer look quite so anachronistic. The killings in the
Omari mosque are serving to slowly spread an atmosphere of tension and fear
across the town.
Sana’s absurd explanations only add to the sense of
strangeness and slightly unhinged ambiguity which is the Syrian regime’s natural
The “strategy of tension” brought the Assad regime back from the
doldrums after 2005. Not all at once, but over time. Proxies, provocations, the
artful application of sudden violence, ambiguity, military activity disguised as
politics, politics disguised as military activity. This is what the Syrian
regime does. This is what the regional alliance of which it is a part does. And
is doing. And is gaining from. The notion that there is only Hama-style
massacres or the victory of Facebook revolution is simplistic.
another set of rules by which Syria, Hamas, Iran and their friends
operate. Call them Muqawama rules.The writer is a senior research
fellow at the Gloria Center, IDC Herzliya. His book
The Transforming Fire: The
Rise of the Israel- Islamist Conflict was published in 2010.