On February 22, a good friend of mine, the courageous Sunday Times reporter
Marie Colvin, who reported from almost every war zone in the world to present
the readers with the horror, brutality and futility of war, was killed by Syrian
forces in the city of Homs.
She is now one of more than 6,000 innocent
civilians who have been massacred by Bashar Assad’s forces, most recently and in
the most gruesome way in the Homs massacre. And the world is numb. Russia
and China vetoed a condemnation of the atrocities, and the West, led by the
United States, has limited itself to economic sanctions, and has not intervened
militarily on the side of the brave Syrian rebels, unlike in Libya.
Assad Alawite regime has been largely a tragedy for Syria, a minority rule of
ruthless dictators. The father, Hafez Assad, while probably a more astute and
intelligent leader, ruled with immense brutality, killing more than 20,000
Islamists in Hama in 1982. He kept Syria not only a closed and backwards
country, close to the Soviet Union, but also far away from the West and peace,
despite generous overtures by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Bill
The apple has fallen close to the tree, and young Bashar, who
seemed initially to bring some promise, due to his age, his Western education
and his spouse, walked straight in the footsteps of his father, or rather limped
in them. Lacking intelligence and experience, he has inherited his father’s
cynicism and cruelty in abundance. He is totally committed to suppressing
the people’s revolt against his despised regime, no matter the cost in innocent
An end must be put to Bashar’s regime, and an end being in sight
in one way or another, it has already affected other regional players, both near
and far from Damascus. The Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah- Hamas axis has been a
potent source of danger to the stability of the entire Middle East. The ongoing
weapon supply chain from Tehran via Damascus, to Lebanese and Palestinian terror
organizations, was the foundation for this dangerous coalition. Now, the alarm
bells are sounding in Tehran’s mosques, and in Beirut’s
Khaled Mashaal and Hamas were the first to understand the
strategic shift, and he and his cronies fled Damascus and are now looking for
refuge in Amman or Doha. Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah is Assad’s last remaining
supporter, besides his Iranian godfathers, weaving conspiracy theories around
the bloodshed in Syria, as Nasrallah knows that his position as the de facto
ruler of Lebanon may be damaged. Even the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in
Cairo and the Maghreb have stood up against the Alawite “kingdom,” as was
apparent in the recent “Friends of Syria” summit in Tunis.
This further deepens the divide between relatively moderate and fundamentalist
Islam, placing the relatively more moderate, mainly Sunni, mainstream Islamists,
opposite the dogmatic Shia made-in-Tehran version, which is all the while trying
to export a fundamentalist ideology of the supremacy of Shari’a law and fanatic
hate for the infidels, be they Arab or Western.
The supreme leader, Ali
Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have already brutally suppressed the
“Green Revolution” in Tehran, and when it comes to brutality and fanaticism,
they can teach even Bashar Assad a lesson. The Iranian regime combines
fundamentalist Islam with militant warfare capacities – from a vast terror
network, to the ongoing effort to produce nuclear weapons. They thrive on an
ideology of hate, denying the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist, and seeing
in the United States “the Great Satan.”
They are also a tragedy to the
Iranian people, to the continuum of the great Persian culture and
But even Tehran is concerned with the possibility of a
regime change in Damascus, and with the crippling sanctions that affect the
economy of Syria, an already very poor country.
Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis is thus in flux, and it is therefore critical how
the world, led by the West and the United States, will act in relation to
Assad’s atrocities and Ahmadinejad’s ambitions. From a moral and strategic point
of view, the West and the United States cannot stand idly by, and have to move
from words to deeds, in order to topple the Damascus tyrant.
can not suffice. While a Security Council resolution is impossible, NATO,
led by the United States, should initially declare a no-fly zone over Syria, arm
the rebels and organize the opposition, as it has already begun to do in Tunis,
with the Syrian National Council. In the second stage, the involvement of
NATO’s air forces in order to defeat Bashar’s army should not be ruled out, nor
should peacekeeping functions be ruled out in the aftermath. Some, even in
Israel, are wary of such engagement, as they fear what and who will succeed
Nothing could be worse than the butchering of one’s own people.
Ask the people of Syria.
Such actions would be the beginning of the end
of the Assad regime in Syria.
This would lead to a shift in the balance
of forces, with Iran and Hezbollah weakened. A weaker and more isolated Tehran
may then be more susceptible to international sanctions – a poor and isolated
Iran may not alter its long-term ambitions, but it may be more open to engage
diplomatically with the “five powers” group – to bring its nuclear program onto
a slower path, with greater inspections and restrictions.
should be a last resort; not an option for Israel at all, as this would be
insufficient and too costly, but for the United States under Barack Obama.
Following the Netanyahu-Obama meeting this week, Israel should, after having
successfully brought about the prioritizing of the Iranian issue, stop being at
the rhetorical forefront of the effort against Iran, and become a concerned and
constructive partner in an international coalition led by the United
Israel, with the shifting of the balance of powers in the region,
needs to pose itself critical questions of national security. This means
engaging in a viable peace process with the Palestinians, after a settlement
freeze, thus opening the route to Cairo and Ankara, necessary partners in the
unfolding power puzzle. It is time for the international community and Israel to
stop thinking simply of bilateral deterrence, which is insufficient, and to
begin thinking on how to structure a new regional coalition and balance of
power, in favor of modernization, greater democratization and freedom, and
regional peaceful coexistence. This will serve as an answer to both the shifting
positions in the Tehran-Damascus axis, and the shifting sands of the Arab
Spring. The solution does not not lie exclusively in our military might, but in
the degree of our policy wisdom, something that has so far been noticeably
lacking.The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served
as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
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