Latest update: November 28th, 2011
For thirty years, the regime of Hafez Al-Assad (1970-2000) conducted a love-hate relationship with the Arab League and with fellow rulers of the Arab countries. On one hand, the Syrian ruler presented himself as the “keeper of the seal of Arabness”, and Damascus, its capital, as the “strong fortress” and the “direction of prayer” for Arab nationalism. The image that Assad tried to create for Syria was as a country that would never yield Arab rights, since it expresses the feelings emotions of the Arab multitude; whereas the other leaders – and chief among them Egypt’s president Saadat and the Jordanian King Husein – grovel at the feet of Israel and the United States, and betray Arab interests, and the values and sensitivities of the Arab nation.
The kings of Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan, like the emirs of the Gulf Emirates, were represented in the Syrian media as “reactionaries” and “stuck in history” while Syria, under the Ba’th (“Resurrection”) banner were portrayed as innovative and progressive and leading the Arab nation to a bright future “under the enlightened leadership of President Assad”. This picture enraged the rulers of the Arab countries but they couldn’t do much against the Syrian ruler.
The meetings of the Arab summit served Assad’s interests – when he found it useful to attend them – as an arena for harsh public criticism of the other Arab countries rulers, but many of the summits he didn’t attend at all, claiming that since the Arab League lacks an agenda with an Arab character, it has no practical meaning and cannot take effective decisions. In some cases he sent junior officials to the summit committees, in order to express disgust with the Arab rulers. Caricatures in Syrian newspapers derided the Arab rulers and showed them as incompetent and ridiculous.
But the great sin of the Syrian regime in the eyes of Arab rulers was the alliance that he formed with the “Ajamis”, that is to say, the Persians at the expense of Syria’s loyalty to the Arab world. All during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) Assad supported the Iranians, despite the fact that Iraq is an Arab country, and this created a springboard for the Ayatollahs into the Arab world. Hafez al-Assad supported and aided the Shi’ite Hezbollah, which does Iran’s bidding, in order to take control of an Arab country, Lebanon. And this sin is especially severe in the eyes of Saudi Arabia, the radical Wahhabi Sunnis, who see Shi’ism as a kind of heresy in Islam.
Despite his elimination of some fifty thousand Syrian citizens who identified with the “Muslim Brotherhood” between 1976 and 1982, Assad supported Hamas, the Palestinian arm of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, which undermines the political order within the Arab world on an ongoing basis. Also his open friendship with Gaddafi raised the ire of the other rulers.
This is how Assad the father earned the enmity of the Arab world. His son, who inherited the leadership from him in July 2000, did not do much to improve Syria’s standing in the eyes of the rulers of the Arab world. He gave preferential treatment to Iran, strengthened and promoted the connection with it, and broadened the area of participation even in the nuclear field. This came about in spite of the fact that most of the citizens of Syria are Arab Sunnis, who never felt that their government was responsive to their wishes. They remained poor, unemployed and hungry, while the corrupt individuals who had connection to the regime, “the fat cats”, became richer at the expense of the people.
The Arab League habitually ignored what was happening in Syria because in most of the other Arab countries the internal situation is was not much better. Also, one of the founding principles in the constitution of the League stipulates that each country will deal with its own internal matters and that the League has no right to interfere. However, this rule has been broken several times, mainly when the internal turmoil in an Arab country became intolerable.
The League decided to send the “Arab Deterrent Forces” to Lebanon after the year 1975, when civil war broke out. As it happened, the “Arab Deterrent Forces” were mostly Syrian and their actions in Lebanon reflected the interests of the Syrian regime more than [a desire to] the benefit of Lebanese. The Syrian army was ignominiously thrown out of Lebanon in 2005 by a decision of the UN’s Security Council after the murder of Rafik Hariri. The Arab League did not support Syria in this matter, and the Arab rulers saw with great satisfaction how Bashar Assad was forced against his will to give up his direct control in Lebanon.
During the last year, since the beginning of the demonstrations in Tunisia in December 2010, the Arab League was forced to relate to the bloodletting in three countries: Yemen, Libya and Syria. They could not turn a blind eye to the great number of fatalities who fell as a result of the violent government crackdowns of citizens demonstrations which went on and on. The League and the Arab rulers couldn’t stand the criticism that was aimed toward them, mainly from the channel “al-Jazeera”.
A group of Gulf states was actively involved in Bahrain by sending armed force, and in Yemen as mediators. As a result of the cruel oppression of the demonstrations in Libya, the League decided to turn to the UN for defense of the citizenry, and this request gave to the NATO countries the cover for condemning Gaddafi and afterwards to attack his forces from the air, despite the fact that a decision was not taken to permit this in the General Assembly military activity. As a result of the increase in fatalities of Syrian citizens in the last months, the Arab League again took harsh public criticism. Arab spokesmen accused the Arab League for having considered the “black liquid” of the Libyans much more important than the “red liquid” of the Syrians. At first the League took the decision to support Assad, afterwards it tried to mediate between him and his opposition.
Starting on Friday, July 29, on which date the Syrian rebels named their protest “Your Silence is Killing Us”, the Arab League began intensive activity frequently discussing the events in Syria, sending fact-finding missions, and with declarations of increasing concern about the occurrences in Syria.
The motivating force for these actions was Saudi Arabia, for three reasons: a. The traditional rivalry between it and Iran, Assad’s patron; b. The fact that Assad is an Allawite, which is considered heretical in the eyes of the Wahhabis, and therefore has no right to rule and perhaps even not to live; c. The fact that Assad the heretic is slaughtering Muslims, as his father did in his day.
There is another powerful motivator for Saudi Arabia: International pressure on Iran is increasing as a result of the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which found that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and this increasing pressure might lead to the outbreak of hostilities in the Gulf. Any outbreak of this sort might cause a disaster for the oil industry in the Gulf and on the source of the wealth – and therefore the stability – of Saudi Arabia. One of the things in which Saudi Arabia sees a possibility to harm Iran is by causing the regime in Syria to collapse, and that is one of the reasons, and perhaps the main one, for the escalation in the statements of the Arab League against the Syrian regime.
In the beginning of November the League Council accepted an initiative which was intended to put an end to the spilling of blood in Syria. The initiative stipulated that: a. The army must immediately stop shooting the citizens who are demonstrating non-violently; b. The security organizations must immediately free the thousands of demonstrators who were arrested; c. The army must immediately leave the cities and the populated areas; d. Syria must allow the international media and organizations belonging to the Arab League to move freely throughout Syria to assess the damages and losses. Within two weeks after all of this is implemented, a committee will be convened which will include the regime and organizations of the opposition to discuss the future of the country and the kind of regime it will be have.
The Syrian regime agreed to the initiative, but in actuality, nothing was implemented. On the contrary, the death toll increased in the days after the initiative was accepted, and the number of daily fatalities stood at tens every day. On the 14th of November, about eighty soldiers and citizens were killed throughout Syria in exchanges of fire between the “Shabbiha” militias, which work for the government, and soldiers who deserted the army with their weapons along with regular citizens.
The long enmity between the Arab political system, which is embodied by the Arab League, and the Syrian regime are expressed in these troubled times by the words of the Prime Minister of Qatar, the state of “al-Jazeera”, who is the present head of the Arab League. He, together with the Egyptian secretary of the League, Nabil al-Arabi, lead the council of the foreign ministers of the League in presenting an unprecedented ultimatum before the Syrian regime. The Prime Minister of Qatar demanded that Assad immediately withdraw the army from the cities and stop shooting the citizens, and if not, the Arab League will impose economic sanctions upon Syria, recall their ambassadors and recognize the opposition organizations as the legitimate representation of the Syrian people.
Also Abdallah the second, King of Jordan, said last week in a broadcast interview that the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, must leave office. No doubt, there is, in these words, a sort of Jordanian revenge for scorn that Hafez Assad poured on Abdallah’s father, King Hussein, for making a separate peace with Israel and thus betraying the Arab nation. Today, with the horrible visions of Syrian oppression that has taken thousands of lives, the King of Jordan rubs his hands with a smile and asks silently: Who is the real traitor of the Arab nation?
The Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, at one time a Saudi ambassador to Washington and head of Saudi intelligence, also said last week that “There is no way out except for Bashar al-Assad to resign”, and with this he expressed the mood of the Saudi royal family, which over the years, has taken sharp criticism from al-Asad, both father and son. Erdoghan, the Turk, for the past few months has been saying similar things, and hosts the meetings of the Syrian opposition organizations in Istanbul. He threatened Syria with creating a security buffer zone where any Syrian citizens who fear for their lives can flee to. In other words, Turkey is threatening to take over an area in Northern Syria, next to the Turkish border, so that Syrian citizens fleeing from the Syrian army’s fire will not need to cross the border with Turkey. Erdoghan still has not taken these military measures against Syria, probably because of the Iranian threat to attack Turkey if Turkey attacks Syria.
Words such as the recommendation of the Jordanian king and the Saudi prince, which are freely spoken today in the Arab media by many commentators, drive the Syrians out of their minds, and every time that a representative of the Syrian regime appears in the media and is asked about the oppression of the demonstrations they “lose it”, yell, curse, threaten, and in one case – in a television studio in Lebanon – there was a tussle between two interviewees in front of the cameras, one who supports the regime and the other who opposes it. The emotional pressure in which they find themselves stems also from the fact that more and more people, who until lately were part of the elite of the regime, defect and cast off Assad and his regime because they feel that his time is running out and he’s losing his ability to control Syria. This phenomenon very much resembles the defection of associates that we saw in Libya, where also, people fled like rats from the sinking ship of Gaddafi.
The Syrian army is suffering from very low morale: many soldiers and officers have defected with their personal weapons, and they stand today in the front lines against the Syrian army. Soldiers don’t go on leave so that they will not be exposed to pressures from their families to desert, and so they will not see in the media the horror of what is happening in their country. Soldiers are fighting against the population because if they do not fight, they may be shot by their commanding officers. The Syrian army shoots demonstrators with machine guns, tanks and RPG missiles. Soldiers who desert, are organizing themselves into fighting groups who ambush military bases and military vehicles, mainly buses that are transporting soldiers.
Spokesmen of the Syrian regime repeat like parrots the mantra that everything that’s happening in Syria is a Zionist, American and Turkish plot, which is intended to uproot Syria from the resistance front against Israel and force it into subjugation to American-Zionist Imperialism. According to them, all of the demonstrations in Syria are a result of lies that are spread in “Al-Jazeera”, a communications channel in Qatar, and the thousands of video clips uploaded to the Internet, among them which give a record of events happening in the streets of Syria, are faked. The fatalities in the streets are “terrorist gangs” while Syrian soldiers are guarding the “last Arab fortress” after Libya fell victim to Euro-American Imperialism.
The pressure that encompasses Damascus also prevails in Tehran, and senior officials of the Iranian regime watch with much concern the decline of their Syrian outpost into oblivion. The entire political system structure that they built with much treasure and effort is in danger of collapse, because if the Syrian regime falls, then Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will lose their logistical and political support. Iran is now desperately seeking a replacement to Syria, and Iraq is the natural candidate for that.
Last week there was a meeting of the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Ja’fari, with the chief of staff of the Iraqi army, Field Marshall Babkar Zibari (an ethnic Kurd), who called on him publicly to broaden and deepen the military ties between Iran and Iraq because “America, Israel and some neighboring countries (meaning Saudi Arabia and Jordan) want to insert a wedge between the two peoples, the Iranian and the Iraqi”. The Iraqi military commander answered saying, “The People’s Mujahadeen Organization” (which is suspected of carrying out a sabotage attack at a missile base near Tehran two weeks ago) is an enemy of Iran and Iraq, and that the two countries must strengthen their ties in all levels”. The meaning of these words on the eve of America’s exit from Iraq, is clear: If the world does not wake up in time, Iraq will turn into an Iranian satellite, and all of the blood, effort and treasure that the Western countries have invested in Iraq since 2003 will have gone down the drain when the Iranians will reap the fruit of the elimination of their enemy number one, Saddam Hussein.
The addition of Iraq to the Iranian coalition poses a threat to all of Iraq’s neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Syria, and if Iraq turns into a base for launching missiles of the Iranian army it will greatly change the balance of power in the Middle East. This will be many times worse if Iran also becomes a nuclear power.
In summary: The coalition that Iran built, whose center is Syria, is currently undergoing a tremendous jolt. The fall of the Syrian regime – which the Arab world is stabbing in the back – is only a matter of time estimated at a few weeks. The Syrian regime feels the noose tightening around its neck and its cruelty increases accordingly. The Iranian regime is under pressure, and is marking Iraq as a substitute for Syria, and this threatens the whole region, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. The tension in the area is rising, and the Gulf is on the brink of a great crisis.
The world must be prepared to take over Syria’s stores of non-conventional weapons, so that they will not fall into the hands of agents like members of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, who are in Syria and understand well the rapidly deteriorating situation. Israel is an island of stability and sanity in a Middle Eastern swamp of blood and tears, and she must open her eyes and ears in order to make sure that the storm surrounding her – that which some call the “Arab Spring” – will pass over her harmlessly.
Originally published in “Makor Rishon”, translated by Sally.Dr. Mordechai Kedar
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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