Sunday, July 17, 2011

Whither Syria?

As soon as I saw the headline "One million people demonstrate in Damascus," I knew that Bashar Assad's days as dictator of Syria are numbered, it's just a matter of time. Also, another 35 people were reportedly killed by Assad's forces throughout Syria. Saturday a group of 40 leading Syrian exiles met in Istanbul, Turkey, and communicating with a similar group meeting secretly in Damascus, they established the National Coordination Council. This is intended to replace Assad once he is overthrown. Optimistic, no doubt, but probably inevitable.

Syria has been Israel's most implacable enemy. For decades it has been the leader of the so-called "rejection front," being those Arabs, including most of the Palestinians, who reject any agreement or compromise with Israel. As token of this position, Damascus has been the favorite location for the headquarters of several terrorist organizations, including Hamas and the PFLP. Hizbollah is supported and funded by Syria and by Iran thru Syria. The amount of arms flooding into Hizbollah in Lebanon is now reported to be so huge that they have no place to store it all. One wonders why Assad has chosen this time to rearm Hizbollah. For the first time Syria has given Hizbollah long-range Scud-D missiles with a range of 700 km, that could reach anywhere in Israel, and also Turkey and Jordan. Altogether it is reported that Hizbollah has 50,000 missiles, far more than most legitimate governments. Are they preparing for war?

Another straw in the wind is that 12 rockets have been fired from Gaza since last Weds, an unusually large number given the recent adherance to a ceasefire. One rocket team was hit by the IAF as it was about to fire rockets and one man was badly injured. Hamas blames these firings on dissident groups, but Israel holds Hamas responsible.

The nothern fronts with Lebanon and Syria have mostly been peaceful since the Second Lebanon War five years ago. This has been attributed to Israel's deterrence given the amount of damage Lebanon sustained in that war. But, if the situation changes drastically, and Assad is fighting for his existence, there is no predicting what he might try to do. One possibility is to unleash Hizbollah (and Hamas?) on Israel, and then claim credit for the damage caused. However, there will be severe reciprocal damage against Lebanon, that will not endear Hizbollah to the majority of Lebanese, and Israel has warned Assad that if he does start a "distracting action" then the IAF will go after his personal targets, palaces, houses, etc. and that he will not be immune. So it all hangs in the balance.

We Israelis wish the Syrian people to be free and we strongly wish and hope that if they are they will not be such implacable enemies of Israel. As in Tunisia and possibly Egypt and Libya, the thrust of history may be towards a multiparty democracy. But, we cannot confidently expect any such change given the history of the Syrian people.


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