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Opinion: Intentionally Crossing Red Lines | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this June 3, 2012 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad delivers a speech at the parliament in Damascus, Syria. (AP)

“The Syrian president has not altered his stance after more than 70,000 citizens have been killed, and after losing control of vast areas in the country. His position remained unaltered even after his prime minister survived an assassination attempt. The Syrian president will not change his policies unless someone close to him is killed, or he himself is subject to an assassination attempt.”

This is a reasonable conclusion reached by a politician after many others failed to understand President Bashar Al-Assad. In my opinion—after having long observed his policies—his personal and political abilities pose more danger than the apparatus of his security forces, despite their size.

I think the most dangerous thing about Bashar Al-Assad is Bashar Al-Assad himself. On a personal level, he appears to his guests as an ignorant man with no capabilities whatsoever—to the point where he cannot even decide what he is having for breakfast the next day. His true character, however, can be found in twelve years of terror. He has survived all of his adventures and crimes—except, perhaps, the current crisis. I fear that even if he loses the battle in Damascus, he may succeed in retaining his presidency, and thus remain a bloodstained thorn the region.

While reiterating that Assad is Iran’s puppet, we must admit that he is leading the game. He is using Iran, Hezbollah and Russia to achieve his own aims. And of course, since they are his partners in crime, they too seek to fulfill their own aims.

His stubborn personality and managerial techniques are identifiable through his record of governance. He repeatedly adopts the same approaches, including how he deals with “red lines.” On the contrary to how others have perceived the situation, such threats mean nothing to him, except that the game continues.

His dealings with neighboring Lebanon eight years ago are a noteworthy example. He must have planned, at an early stage, to ostracize top Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri, in order to advance his political domination of Lebanon. To this end, he attempted to eliminate all powers that were not aligned with him. Assad began by attempting to murder Marwan Hamadeh, a Druze leader considered to be a Hariri sympathizer. The assassination attempt against Hamadeh was a message to Hariri, who had left Lebanon, and only returned in order to cast a vote in parliament upon Damascus’ wishes.

Despite this, Assad killed him. By assassinating Hariri in broad daylight, Assad crossed what many considered to be a red line. Following wide international condemnation, he withdrew his forces from Lebanon in compliance with a UN Security Council decision—implying that he sought reconciliation. Each time he crossed a red line, he would hint that he wanted to retreat in an attempt to confirm that he is a head of state that is committed to political and diplomatic protocol.

In reality, however, he practiced politics in the same manner as a mafia leader. He repeatedly made promises to politicians from around the globe, before physically removing most of his Lebanese rivals, Christian and Muslim leaders, military men and media figures. At times, he even got rid of some out of anger—such as George Hawi, who was killed because he made a television appearance in which he condemned Assad.

After every time that he had somebody assassinated, he implied to others that he was worried, and that he desires reconciliation. Then, he surprises us by killing someone else! This method was continued until he had eliminated more than 20 leaders between 2005 and 2007. He was never punished for any crime. He recently returned to this process again by killing Wissam Al-Hassan, a Lebanese security official—perhaps because of his connection with the Syrian revolution.

In a similar case, Assad arranged for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, in Gaza. He was likewise involved in Hezbollah’s attack on an Israeli patrol beyond Lebanese borders. This violated red lines regarding his relations with Israel, and Assad relied on Iranian backing by announcing their joint defense treaty. Israel responded by attacking Lebanon and sabotaging both Lebanon and Gaza.

He claims to have helped with negotiations while at the same he prevented reaching any solution. He was furious when the head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, informed him that a deal had been struck in which Israel would release 1,000 Palestinian detainees in return for the release of Shalit, and that Hamas official Khaled Meshaal had agreed. Assad responded to Suleiman saying that Meshaal was incapable of making any such promises, and subsequently sabotaged the agreement. Shalit’s case was not resolved until two years ago, when the Syrian revolution forced him to accept Shalit’s release in October 2011. Like Iran’s leaders, Assad exploits the Palestinian cause without taking any interests but his own into consideration.

A third, similar, case has been witnessed at the beginning the uprising of the Syrian people two years ago. Publicly, he shook hands with mediators, such as those from Turkey, promising them what they want to hear regarding a democratic transition. But in the meantime, he committed atrocities that were unparalleled in the region, such as his killing of Hamza Al-Khatib—a child—in a hideous manner.

The personality of Damascus’s dictator is the reason that he is vilified. He thinks he is capable of overcoming any crisis. He believes, like all manic dictators, that miracles will work in his favor. This is why I fear that he will not hesitate to asphyxiate a hundred thousand Syrians using chemical weapons any day now—he has tried to do so in smaller doses over the past few months. He thinks he has succeeded in either fooling the world, or obstructing it by hiding behind the Russians.

Assad is not color blind. He sees red lines, but crosses them nonetheless. And as long as no one is prepared to stop him, he will only continue to surprise the world with something worse.