On my mind: Assad’s global threat

The Syrian president, engaged in slaughtering his own people, now threatens Europe.

July 8, 2013 23:34
4 minute read.
Syrian President Bashar Assad heading a cabinet meeting in Damascus, February 12, 2013.

Bashar Assad 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)


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Bashar Assad is certainly audacious.

The Syrian president, engaged in slaughtering his own people, now threatens Europe.

“If the Europeans ship weapons [to Syrian rebels], Europe’s backyard becomes a terrorists’ place, and Europe will pay a price for it,” Assad told the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Rundschau. Chaos in Syria would result in “the direct export of terrorism to Europe,” he warned. “Terrorists will return to Europe with fighting experience and extremist ideologies.”

Thanks to Assad, however, Syria is already in turmoil, and one of his partners in crime, the Iranian-supported Hezbollah, has been quite active on the European continent. Yet, EU countries are still debating whether to designate Hezbollah – as the US did years ago – a terrorist organization. Several European governments are inexplicably blocking the unanimity needed for EU action.

Assad’s bellicose stance is not surprising.

He vowed two years ago that international pressure on his regime would produce a regional conflict. Yet he refuses to accept responsibility for the violence that so far has taken the lives of 100,000 Syrians, spilled over into Lebanon and other neighboring countries, and is tearing Syria apart.

While the US and EU have called for Assad’s ouster, they remain divided and hesitant over what course to take.

In contrast, his strongest state supporters, Iran and Russia, are determined to ensure Assad’s survival. No wonder Assad is projecting confidence.

Assad’s warning came as world leaders gathered recently for the annual G8 Summit. The final G8 communiqué was a weak plea for the various Syrian parties to attend a peace conference, proposed by the US and Russia, in Geneva.

Though some argue that the fragmented Syrian opposition is an obstacle to such negotiations, Assad himself has consistently rebuffed proposals to participate in such a gathering. This is because acknowledging any opposition as legitimate would undermine his twisted narrative that all opponents, armed and unarmed, are terrorists.

Thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the G8 deliberations ended as inconclusively as all the UN Security Council discussions, where Russia has thrice used its veto to stymie any meaningful action to end the conflict. The G8 did not even mention Assad by name. Not too long ago, ironically, Assad’s departure was a US and EU expectation.

Joining Russia and Iran in supporting Assad is Hezbollah, whose leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has openly admitted that his organization is fully engaged in the war. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters have crossed into Syria from Lebanon, helping Assad’s forces turn the tide against the rebels and take back control of Qusair. They are coming to the rescue of Assad’s beleaguered forces in Aleppo, Homs and other key areas of the country.

Nasrallah says that his organization’s involvement aims to protect Syria’s Assad from Israel, since, as he puts it, the end of the Assad regime will harm Palestinian aspirations.

The full, open engagement of Hezbollah, whose goal since its founding 30 years ago has been Israel’s destruction, shows how far the Syria conflict has morphed since the regime’s March 2011 arrest and torture of schoolchildren who dared to scrawl anti-regime graffiti.

As the conflict entered its third year several months ago, the temptation for Assad to try to involve Israel proved too attractive to ignore. Assad and his minions have accused Israel of supporting the regime’s opponents.

The proof? Israeli hospitals and doctors, in acts of genuine humanitarianism, have treated Syrians in need of urgent medical care.

Hezbollah has upped the ante, proclaiming that it will defend Syria and, when given the chance, use its heavily armed force to open a new front by reclaiming the Golan Heights, the strategic territory Israel has occupied since Syria attacked it in 1967, and again in 1973.

The prospect that not only Hezbollah but Iranian Revolutionary Guards and possibly other radical Islamist elements could create a new front, akin to southern Lebanon and Gaza, on Israel’s borders is another potential destabilizing effect of the Syria conflict.

The EU would do well to finally take action aimed at weakening Hezbollah operations on European soil. This could be effectively accomplished by designating the group, in its entirety, a terrorist organization. Hezbollah carried out a fatal bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria, last July, and a Cypriot court convicted a Hezbollah operative for planning similar operation in Nicosia.

Such a step by the EU would deny Hezbollah the capability to fundraise, recruit and organize in Europe. That’s the least the EU could do to strike at a terrorist group that has hit targets, often at the behest of Iran, all over the world, and is no doubt gaining strength at the expense of those who have sought to bring down Assad.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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