Naksa violence shows Assad desperate

Israel to date has provided the Assad dynasty with one of its abiding claims to power.

assad speech 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
assad speech 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When the heavily state-controlled Syrian TV relays live footage to its viewers, we know that something very orchestrated is afoot.
Indeed, on this week’s Naksa Day – the newfangled commemoration of the 1967 Arab defeat – the Syrian broadcasters turned ostensibly and uncharacteristically liberal for a short duration and transmitted an uncensored feed from the Israeli border.
That was after the authorities had exhorted the masses – and, according to persistent assertions, also resorted to bribery – to breach the barriers and stream into Israel. The obvious aim was to stage an attention-grabbing media spectacular. Hence the sudden temporary shedding of entrenched Syrian reporting restrictions.
The very same state television, it should be noted, has managed to avoid screening any of the mayhem and mass murder in Syrian cities over the past few weeks of violent protests against Bashar Assad’s ruthless rule.
That failure to cover Syria’s domestic upheavals and the subsequent alacrity to foment and feature clashes with Israeli troops are of course intrinsically interconnected.
Likewise there is an inherent link between deliberately downplaying the numbers of Syrian civilians killed by Assad’s troops and exaggerating the number of casualties in the stage-managed extravaganza on the border with Israel.
There are more telltale signs, apart from Syrian TV’s atypical openness. The vicinity of the border with Israel on the Syrian side has always been a closed military zone where nobody unauthorized could wander inadvertently.
This is how Damascus kept its border singularly calm for decades – decades when calm suited its purposes.
And then, on Sunday, in a repeat of the Nakba Day orchestrations three weeks ago, this area suddenly swarmed with bused-in, flag-waving and placard-hoisting throngs, blaring slogans via loudspeakers. Along for the show were cameramen and ambulance crews. There could only be one credible explanation: The entire event was well-organized in advance with sanction from above.
But the biggest giveaway was that the anti-Israel marchers –who are meant to be Palestinians – made it a point to loudly chant their avid, undying support for Assad. There was an unqualified pro-government uniformity, without so much as a single dissenting voice. Assad’s cause is hardly popular among the denizens of his bailiwick these days.
Thus, the bizarre loyalty for him on the Golan appeared strangely incompatible with the mood inside Syria.
Moreover, it serves us to recall that when the assorted autocracies on our doorstep consider it in their interest to impose control and restraint, they know full well how to do so.
For their own purposes – not for the love of Israel – the Egyptians, Jordanians, the Palestinian Authority (both the Ramallah and Gaza branches thereof) and even the Hezbollah-intimidated Lebanese opted to uphold discipline on Naksa Day. Since Assad has a proven record of maintaining order on the border, his uncharacteristic recent “failures” underscore the obvious conclusion that he hopes to gain an advantage from this policy reversal.
ASSAD HAS now entered the nothing-to-lose phase of his travails. On the Friday preceding Naksa Day, tens of thousands of Syrians – maybe more – packed the streets to clamor for his ouster. On Naksa Day itself, while the contrived Golan performance was in full swing, dozens were being shot dead in Syria’s north.
Assad would like nothing more than to have the international community focus on casualties ostensibly inflicted by Israel rather than on what he is doing to his own populace. Therefore, the more blood spilled at the border, the better for his purposes. To improve the manipulation’s desired effect, Assad magnified the numbers of alleged Israel-caused fatalities. Nobody can anyhow reliably check or ascertain anything in his totalitarian backyard.
Assad’s crude diversionary tactic wasn’t merely produced for foreign public opinion, but also for the home crowd. Assad needs to replicate his success of yesteryear to unite the very diverse components that comprise Syria’s citizenry by demonizing Israel as the common enemy.
Paradoxically, in this respect, Israel to date has provided the Assad dynasty with one of its abiding claims to power.
The Assad regime, it was inculcated into the Syrian mindset, protects the Arab sphere from ogre Israel.
This is now being ironically thrown back at Assad by opposition protesters, some of whom tauntingly brand him “Israel’s lackey.” On occasion even despotic provocateurs and propaganda-purveyors reap the whirlwind. But that does not mean Assad should be taken any less seriously.
His heightened vulnerability, in fact, makes him all the more desperate and consequently unpredictable.