Bashar Assad 311 .
(photo credit: Oded ben Josef)
Not long ago, the noted author Elie Wiesel reportedly was asked what he had to
say about the Holocaust. Wiesel, who survived the Nazi genocide, replied “that
you can get away with it!” Those words came to mind when Syrian President Bashar
Assad ordered his armed forces to crush the revolt against his authoritarian
regime that began early last year and still is under way. To date, the artillery
bombardments, tank fire and attacks against homes in Homs, Hama, Daraa and other
cities have killed an estimated 7,000 people.
Despite the large-scale
defections of soldiers who refused to shoot at the citizens of their own country
and the formation of the Free Syrian Army, military personnel loyal to Assad
have kept the upper hand and seem determined to take as many lives as may be
necessary to keep Assad in power.
The abortive attempt made by the US and
its European allies to get the UN Security Council to end this wanton bloodshed
failed due to the vetos cast by Russia and China. Syria’s value as a strategic
asset was the highest priority for the policy-makers in Moscow and
They were backed by Iran, which regards Syria as its main
Hundreds of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards
have been rushed to Damascus to fight the rebels and intimidate their civilian
Assad studied medicine at Damascus University, served as an
army doctor and qualified as an ophthalmologist in London. He is 46 years
Like his late father, Hafez Assad, who was Syria’s president from
1971 to 2000, Bashar belongs to the minority Alawite sect. Its adherents
dominate the Syrian military command and intelligence apparatus, to the chagrin
of the country’s Sunni majority.
Bashar Assad’s relentless and
uninhibited campaign against the predominantly Sunni rebels is modeled after his
late father’s onslaught against their predecessors.
An estimated 20,000
of them and other unarmed civilians died when he crushed an uprising in Hama 20
years ago. The Muslim Brotherhood, a clericalist organization that has made
impressive political gains in the Arab World since the so-called Arab Spring
began last year, was involved in that abortive uprising.
One reason for
Bashar Assad’s violent stand against those who seek to depose him is his fear of
merciless retribution against the Alawites who would lose power along with
He undoubtedly realizes that he personally and his immediate family
would would be in grave danger if the rebellion succeeds.
crisis in Syria has long-term implications for the rest of the world.
has introduced a new form of political suppression: The use of unbridled
military force against civilians who either seek sweeping reforms or oppose the
existence of dictatorial regimes in their respective countries. In other words,
the Syrian scenario may be repeated elsewhere in the Third World. This prospect
is all the more depressing in the light of Wiesel’s cynical remark about
Indeed, such regimes also would “get away” with mass murder
without any intervention by the international community.
It also proves
that in today’s world, national interests take precedence over moral principles
including the need to protect human life. The Obama administration surely could
have tried by now to supply medical aid to the Syrian rebels, but it did not.
The Syrian rebels have been appealing in vain for this, saying they lack the
medicines and equipment necessary to treat those who have been wounded in the
street warfare that has been raging in Syria’s embattled cities. Airdrops could
have been initiated and overland transfers could have been implemented with the
help of local personnel who know how to cross undetected from Lebanon, Turkey or
Israel. It is very doubtful that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would
send his air force to sabotage such efforts or that pro-Assad agents of
Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrilla movement would interfere with them on the
One of the most intriguing aspects of the situation in Syria is
how it might affect Israel in the long run. There are no indications that the
anti-Assad coalition might deviate from Damascus’s longstanding hostility toward
the Jewish state. Nor can Israelis expect to benefit politically if the Muslim
Brotherhood, which has gained the ascendancy in Egypt, or a Syrian counterpart
of Tunisia’s Islamic-oriented ruling party that won the election that followed
the overthrow of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali were to win at the polls in
Fortunately, Israel has not been an issue in the Syrian uprising.
Its only negative aspect from Israel’s standpoint is that several rank-and-file
protesters who condemned the conduct of Syria’s troops were overheard saying
that “even the Israelis did not behave in such a way!” This does not inspire
outside observers to assume that the tragedy being experienced by Syria’s
population might tempt it to change course – if only to demonstrate its national
pride and concurrent contempt for the Arab countries’ failure to come to the
There also is no basis to assume that Israel might be more
forthcoming insofar as the status of the Golan Heights is concerned in the event
of Assad’s overthrow.
Israel’s policy-makers might deem it unwise to
concede such a strategic area before the true character of Syria’s future regime
is tested by Middle Eastern reality. On the other hand, if a change of
leadership brings an end to Syria’s alliance with Iran, and the Islamic Republic
therefore loses Damascus as the hub of its supply line to Lebanon’s Hezbollah,
and if the Palestinian extremists, including Hamas, are compelled to stay away
from Damascus, flexibility by Israel on the Golan issue might pave the way to
genuine peace with Syria.
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