Wednesday morning, a day before Kofi Annan''s cease fire was scheduled to reach its final implementation in Syria, and a day after Syrian forces were supposed to withdraw from major population centers, I read on BBC''s Internet site that "Kofi Annan, says he has received assurances from Damascus that it will respect his ceasefire plan."
At the same time I heard a live report on Israel radio, picked up from its origin in the Syrian city of Homs. The translation of the Arabic was of an attack by artillery, rockets, and mortars of unmatched intensity, with sounds of explosions in the background.
The lead item on an Israeli news web site: "168 killed yesterday, Annan: Assad promised to honor the cease fire."
Reports Thursday morning were that the onset of the cease fire at 6 AM seemed to be holding. No reporters were optimistic. Some suggested that it was still too early to judge. The fighters had not yet finished breakfast. Others emphasized the conditions that Syrians added to their agreement: that outside financial and material help from Qatar and Saudi Arabia must cease.
Even without overt bloodshed, it was clear that Assad had not complied with the condition of removing his troops from populated areas.
Reports at noon were Syrian soldiers beginning to fire in several locations, and had sent more troops and tanks to various cities.
By mid-afternoon there were reports of several deaths due to the army''s sniping and artillery, and the deaths of government troops. Each side was accusing the other of violating the agreement. .
An hour later Kofi Annan was calling his cease fire a success.
A day later he was saying it was incomplete. Syria must remove its forces from the cities. There would be meetings in the United Nations to authorize the dispatch of unarmed observers, seemingly to watch and record the next rounds of fighting.
Rebel leaders were committing themselves to the cease fire, but urging their followers to the streets in order to demonstrate opposition to the regime.
There would be marches after Friday prayers. A year ago it was those weekly occasions that helped move the process up the scale from demonstrations to rebellion.
By 5 PM on Friday, an Israeli web site was reporting, "11 people killed since the morning.
The New York Times was more cautious.
"Thousands of Syrians took to the streets after the noon prayer in countless mosques on Friday, offering the biggest test of the country’s fragile cease-fire since it was declared at dawn on Thursday and reviving the public protests that ignited Syria’s 13-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. . . .The response of the government security forces was uneven and difficult to gauge. . . . "
There shouldn''t be any surprise in this, except among those who expected better from Annan and the UN establishment. And perhaps those others--likely to be among the same ones--still singing in the choir led by Thomas Friedman and Barack Obama who expect good things from Arab Spring.
It is not easy to assign blame for the failure of Annan''s cease fire. While he should have known that Assad would lie, he also should have known that a leaderless collection of rebels couldn''t be expected to operate with the same discipline shown by all those governments that vote in the United Nations.
What''s in it for the Jews?
Israeli officials have generally been quiet about the slaughter occuring just over their border. Occasionally a minister in the government has sought to gain some media traction with comments about humanitarian aid, cynicism about the impotence of the United Nations, or the silence of human rights organizations. However, the Prime Minister has been quick to silence them.
In a situation when the world is only clucking its tongue and sending Kofi Annan to the front, why should Israel express itself about warfare among Arabs who--if they would take time out to speak about Israel--would be competing with condemnations and threats?
The hope is that whoever comes out on top will attend mainly to Syria, and not take too seriously the rhetoric about destroying Israel. We''ll have to live with whoever wins.
Israel''s Arab-knowledgeable commentators are not quiet. They fill the airwaves with the names and pretensions of various rebel leaders. Those speaking on television accompany their reports with films from the video cameras or telephones of individuals engaged in the rebellion. Explosions, fire, crumbling buildings, screaming women, running men, and dead bodies--often of low cinematic quality--are what can see on one channel''s news or another.
None of the Israeli commentators I have heard expresses optimism about democracy or any other kind of enlightenment coming out of the events in Syria or any other locale affected by Arab spring, with the possible exception of Tunis. A number of them agree that the struggle in Syria is far from over, and that Assad has will and resources to keep up the bloodshed. The aggregate of Alawi, Christian, and Druze minorities approximates 40 percent of the Syrian population, and they are the base of Assad''s continuing support. We have seen organized demonstrations in his behalf, which have brought several hundred thousand people to prominent sites in Damascus.
Thomas Friedman continues to write about an "Arab awakening."
"Make no mistake where my heart lies. I still believe this Arab democracy movement was inevitable, necessary and built on a deep and authentic human quest for freedom, dignity and justice."
He is also writing that the whole thing has a lot to do with Arab governments'' failure to concern themselves for the environment. Right thinking people of the world, applaud. Friedman is still your leader.
Friedman has sobered, a bit. While he remains optimistic about Tunis and Egypt, he now fears that the rest of the chaos will end up more like the bloody civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. That was multi-ethnic and multi-religious like many of the Arab countries, and "exploded into pieces."
We can wonder why he remains optimistic about Egypt, insofar as later he also writes
"Even evolution is difficult in Egypt. The army overseeing the process there just arrested a prominent liberal blogger, Maikel Nabil, for “insulting the military.”
For those tired or frustrated by Syria, they may also note the failure of worthy leaders to keep a lid on North Korea. Despite urgings against such things from that country''s friends (e.g., China) and adversaries (just about everyone else), the North Koreans went ahead with the test of a long-range rocket. North Koreans said it was part of their campaign to put satellites in orbit. Others are wary of that peace-loving explanation.
The rocket failed soon after lift-off. North Korea''s neighbors and others concerned about its nefarious activities might breathe easier for a while. However, reports from South Korea are that their cousins are preparing for a nuclear weaspons test.
The United States is making noise about stopping the food aid that it used to buy North Korea''s abandonment of its nuclear weapon activities.
Meanwhile, a commentary on the meeting with Iranian representatives in Istanbul:
"When Iran meets with Western powers Saturday, it surely won’t agree to changes in its nuclear program, diplomats say. But an agreement to keep talking will be encouragement enough.".
With Thomas Friedman as political savant, Barack Obama as definer in chief of what is politically correct, and Kofi Annan as head diplomat, the future of the Middle East is assured. As I look out from this little corner of the region, however, what is assured is all bad.