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Why don’t they tell al-Assad “now means now”? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It is quite clear that the international and regional position towards the Syrian crisis is somewhat elusive. Perhaps the world is embarrassed and taken aback by the Syrian people’s insistence to rise up and revolt against the al-Assad regime. There is a clear difference between the international and Arab stance towards what is happening in Libya and the people’s uprising against the Gaddafi regime, and the soft statements being issued regarding the Syrian crisis. “Maybe” al-Assad will enact reforms…”Perhaps” the regime will endure…”possibly” the people will be able to achieve reform, and so on. “Maybe”, “Perhaps”, “Possibly”, and other weak quantifiers…this is the gist of the foreign stance towards the demands being made by the Syrian protestors who have taken to the streets in the majority of Syria’s cities, towns, and villages.

The US hails the dialogue conducted in the Semiramis Hotel in Damascus, whilst Russia rebukes the opposition for not accepting the regime’s proposed dialogue, all the while the regime’s tanks continue to flatten Idlib and Ma’arrat al-Numan, and the Shabiha [pro-government gangs] continue to commit atrocities in Homs, Hama and Aleppo. In Damascus, the regime is carrying out dialogue with its eloquent tongue, whilst it is sinking its sharp fangs into unarmed demonstrators in the rest of the Syria.

The revolutionary Syrians are louder than the silent Arabs, and talk with bitterness about Arab weakness on the part of the Arab League. Indeed Arab League Deputy Secretary General, Ahmad bin Heli, recently stated that the Arab League cannot take a position supporting the popular Syrian revolution – in the same manner that the Arab League has backed the Libyan popular revolution – because the Arab states themselves have not officially announced such a position.

So there is no ambiguity or vagueness here; the vision is clear. The stunning resilience of the Syrian people, may perhaps, force the international community – as represented by the UN Security Council – the Arab states, and major regional powers, especially Turkey, to change their stances. Another factor could be the Syrian regime’s attitude. It continues to use excessive violence, spreading terror and bloodshed while relying on a confused and undecided international posture toward the future of Syrian.

We have not heard the “now means now” phrase that Obama and the US administration used with Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, nor the warlike rhetoric that Sarkozy used with Gaddafi, nor even the strong words used with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, demanding his immediate departure.

Why is there a variation in stances when it comes to the Syrian crisis?

There are several interpretations for the weakness and fear with regards to stances against Syria. Some say the Arabs are not prepared to see a repeat of the chaos which broke out in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Many believe that the Arabs are willing to coexist with al-Assad’s regime in Syria, provided that Syria does not fall into the same quagmire of chaos and failure that Iraq found itself in. Even if Syria’s regime survives this popular revolution, it would emerge with its wings clipped, and be much less powerful and influential than before. This might in fact be better than Syria finding itself in a protracted state of “no regime.” This would see two birds being killed with one stone. We would therefore avoid total chaos erupting in Syria and, at the same time, undermine the capabilities of the al-Assad regime to cause trouble and adopt pro-Iranian regional policies.

Others say the fear is of handing the country to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the scenario that seems to be unfolding in Egypt. We must recall that the Muslim Brotherhood is considered to be the most powerful political party in Syria’s opposition. Here, we would be facing dangerous, radical, political organizations racing to take power, which is something that could affect the political situation in stable Gulf States.

Whilst a third group believes that the international community is wary of taking a strong stance against the Syrian regime because of Israel. This is despite Syria’s strong rhetoric against Tel Aviv, its support of Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as its alliance with Iran. In reality, even though Israel is concerned by the al-Assad regime and its policies, it can still coexist with it. For Israel, that would be much better than taking a leap in the dark and potentially finding themselves facing off with a new Syrian regime across the Golan front, particularly as the sudden collapse of the Mubarak regime was bad news for Israel. Actually, this had the impact of a thunderbolt, as Egypt’s future foreign policy [towards Israel] is now uncertain.

Yes, several contradictory statements have been issued in Israel about the Syrian crisis. There are those who say there is now no alternative for the al-Assad regime, or there is no need for Israel to fear the Syrian popular movement demanding democracy, and that [the uprising] is profoundly in the interests of Israel, as stated by Ehud Barak. There are also those, inside Israel and outside, particularly allies of the Jewish state, who warn against the unknown future [in Syria].

In Israel, which strongly influences U.S. foreign policy decisions, there are two basic considerations when it comes to making their own policy decisions in the region. There is the ideological consideration, based on an in-depth historical, biblical mythology regarding the borders of the Promised Land. There is also the purely practical consideration of imperialistic planning to ensure Israeli supremacy in the region, without any specific ideological considerations. The two considerations amazingly have the ability to coexist with one another, as explained by renowned Israeli historian and scholar, Israel Shahak.

Shahak believes that the major strategy adopted by Israel since the birth of the modern state of Israel is not based on Jewish ideological concepts but on purely practical and strategic considerations. Retired Israeli General Shlomo Gazit, also a former director of military intelligence offered a clear description of the principles which govern the official Israeli strategy, saying that “Israel’s main task has not changed at all, and it remains of crucial importance. Its location at the center of the Arab-Muslim Middle East predestines Israel to be a devoted guardian of stability in all the countries surrounding it. Its [role] is to protect the existing regimes: to prevent or halt the processes of radicalization and to block the expansion of fundamentalist religious zealotry.” (Yediot Aharonot, 27 April 1992)

Israel Shahak, the Israeli historian and researcher known for his criticism of the Israeli perception of the nature and role of the Jewish state, commented upon this in his book “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years”, writing that “needless to say, according to Gazit, Israel has a benevolent concern for the stability of the Arab regimes. In Gazit’s view, by protecting Middle Eastern regimes, Israeli performs a vital service for ‘the industrially advanced states, all of which are keenly concerned with guaranteeing the stability of the Middle East’. He argues that without Israel the existing regimes of the region would have collapsed long ago and that they remain in existence only because of Israeli threats. Whilst this view may be hypocritical, one should recall in such contexts La Rochefoucault’s maxim that ‘hypocrisy is the tax which wickedness pays to virtue’. Redemption of the Land is an attempt to evade paying any such tax.” [Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years by Israel Shahak, Chapter 1].

This is the basic Israeli strategy with regards to influencing Western attitudes towards the Syrian crisis. Despite almost twenty years passing since the words of the Israeli strategist General Shlomo Gazit, the grand vision remains the same.

But we have to remember, before all this and after all this, that there are things which occur outside the framework of planning, outside of pen-and-paper calculations. Certain social phenomenons, such as popular uprisings, are instinctively unleashed at certain moments and under certain conditions, forging the destinies of people and nations. There is the power of dreams, and these dreams are now being brought to reality on the ground. This is something that cannot be fore-seen or predicted.

Such incidents occur like lightning from a clear sky, showing us a dazzling glimpse of the future.

In Syria, matters are still between the limits of planning and surprise. Everyone wants to steer the Syrian ship to their own harbor or port, but the first and final decision [regarding the ship’s destination] lies with the sailors, the ship’s passengers, and the captain…as well as the wind and the waves.