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Opinion: Where is Assad on Gaza? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Wednesday July 16, 2014 photo, and released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syria’s President Bashar Assad is sworn for his third, seven-year term, in Damascus, Syria. (AP Photo/SANA)

Bashar Al-Assad’s silence on the Israeli aggression towards the Gaza Strip is striking. Most of the regional leaders who trade on the blood of others, and Assad is one of them, love to exploit the Palestinian cause. As soon as any conflict breaks out, we hear these figures come out to talk about “resistance” and “steadfastness” and so on, so why has Assad been silent this time?

I do not think this is out of bitterness—as some people claim—over Hamas’s position towards the Syrian revolution. The tyrant of Damascus is well aware that Hamas did not actually stand against him; they merely disassociated themselves from his regime. In fact, neither Hamas chief Khaled Mishal nor former Gaza PM Ismail Haniyeh are capable of taking a decisive and courageous stand on the Syrian revolution for fear of the consequences this would have on Hamas’s own relations with Iran—Assad’s strongest backer. Hamas has also been seeking to re-open its lines of communication with Hezbollah, which at first appeared reticent only to later come out to say that Hamas’s relations with Iran—and by implication Hezbollah—have returned to normal, if not improved. Therefore, it is clear that Assad’s silence is based on other considerations.

Today, Assad simply cannot come out to talk about “resistance” or “steadfastness,” particularly after Israel carried out airstrikes on Syrian territory without Assad responding. This is not to mention the Hezbollah fighters who are wreaking havoc across Syria in defense of Assad himself. Therefore, it is clear that Assad’s silence on the Israeli aggression towards Gaza is based on the awkward and confused political situation he finds himself in now. Assad will also not have missed the political position that Nuri Al-Maliki has found himself in, with Iran now openly considering replacing him in Iraq.

Assad also has seen, with his own eyes, how Egypt is recovering and regaining its natural position in the region, while the US is taking the initiative to strike the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq. An ISIS withdrawal would grant the Free Syrian Army the opportunity to go on the offensive against Assad’s own forces in Syria, after becoming bogged down in the battle with the Islamist rebels. Assad could also be feeling under pressure after former Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri returned to Lebanon this week following a long self-imposed exile. Hariri must now be very cautious about his personal safety, particularly given that the wolves of Iran can be found throughout the region. They will not be shy to use a new Abu Adas [alleged suicide bomber who initially claimed responsibility for the 2004 assassination of Rafik Hariri before it was revealed that he had been forced to make the video-taped confession].

So, these are the reasons behind Assad’s silence on Gaza. At the same time, we should not be surprised if Assad breaks this silence today, or tomorrow, to confirm that he is ready and able. Assad is not provoked by the sight of blood as much as he is by his perceived image in the media.