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Opinion: Assad’s Eureka Moment | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A picture of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes is seen on the facade of the police academy in Aleppo, after it was captured by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013. (Reuters/Mahmoud Hassano)

In Bashar Al-Jaafari’s latest speech, Assad’s ambassador to the UN focused on the threat of extremism to Syria. He claimed that the Assad regime is a protector of tolerance and a bulwark against extremism.

We are well aware of such false protestations, and I am looking here not just at Jaafari, but also his president Bashar Al-Assad. Prior to Jaafari’s speech before the UN, Assad had taken part in a television interview with the Alikhbaria Syria satellite channel following a significant period during which he was absent from the Arab media. His appearance brought to mind Archimedes’s famous cry of “Eureka” as the Syrian president sought to use the recent announcement of the merger of Al-Qaeda and Jabhat Al-Nusra to continue attempts to portray those fighting against the Damascus regime as being the same terrorists threatening western capitals with violence. Assad emphasized that this confirmed that his regime is in the right, and indeed has been right from the start. While deputy Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Miqdad, claimed that there is no way that Syria can remain unified if Assad is toppled; he also said that the Arabs and West are being “stupid” by supporting the Syrian rebels, particularly as Jabhat Al-Nasra number among them.

This “generosity” to the media on the part of Assad regime officials, and this avid focus on the issue of terrorism, particularly Al-Qaeda, attempting to portray all of the Syrian opposition in this light, demonstrates that the Damascus regime has managed to catch its breath. This was clear from Assad’s description of the situation today as “better” than it was at the start of the crisis. During this interview, Assad blamed the west for supporting Al-Qaeda and terrorists in Syria, saying that it would pay the price for this support in the heart of Europe and America.

It is understood that this is all a political maneuver on the part of the Assad regime, which is trying to exploit the moment. Assad wants to tell the West that he is standing with them against Islamic extremism.

Of course, this is a lie. The Bashar Al-Assad regime, despite its lack of religious features at home, has repeatedly gotten into bed with Al-Qaeda. We all recall how Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria served as a way-station and gathering point for Al-Qaeda fighters on their way to Iraq. We also know who “created” the Shaker Al-Abssi armed extremist group in Lebanon, not to mention other similar incidents.

We all recall Iran’s cunning use of Al-Qaeda in its regional and international battles, not to mention how the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) harbored Al-Qaeda leadership figures. The last such figure was Kuwaiti-born Suleiman Abu Ghaith, and it may also take some time until we can discover what role Iran is playing in the Jabhat Al-Nasra gambit in Syria.

Does this mean that there is no threat from Islamic extremism or Al-Qaeda in Syria?

Of course not, for this is a real and present danger, but it is important to note that the Assad regime’s discourse in this regard is a political maneuver, nothing more, and it is not telling the whole truth.

We have heard such claims on numerous occasions before the arrival of Jabhat Al-Nusra on the scene; what is happening in Syria today is the result of the international community’s negligence since the beginning of the crisis, not to mention the lack of Arab support and assistance for the opposition. The Syrian crisis has doubled due to this failure, and we are seeing Assad’s violent and brutal practices being turned against the regime, and so he is now getting a taste of his own medicine.

There are huge levels of frustration and anger at the “ignorance” and naïveté of Washington’s position towards the Syrian crisis, not just today, but for a number of years. This is an anger that is being felt by a majority of Arabs, and this has even reached politicians in Washington, like Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain who has repeatedly expressed his anger at the Obama’s administration’s failure to end the Syrian crisis.

Therefore Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al-Assad welcome any and all Al-Qaeda attacks, real or imagined or fabricated, as this only serves to strengthen their position. This is not to mention the Iranian Guide Ali Khamenei, who is watching the entire scene unfold from Tehran.