A Different Perspective: Assad is legitimizing mass murder

Regimes such as Syria can “get away” with mass murder without any intervention by the international community.

Bashar Assad 311  (photo credit: Oded ben Josef)
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 Beijing.
They were backed by Iran, which regards Syria as its main regional ally.
Hundreds of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards have been rushed to Damascus to fight the rebels and intimidate their civilian supporters.
Assad studied medicine at Damascus University, served as an army doctor and qualified as an ophthalmologist in London. He is 46 years old.
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 him.
He undoubtedly realizes that he personally and his immediate family would would be in grave danger if the rebellion succeeds.
The open-ended crisis in Syria has long-term implications for the rest of the world.
It 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 genocide.
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 ground.
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 Syria.
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 rescue.
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.