Syrian Muscle Flexing

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In December 2010 President Obama appointed the first US ambassador to Syria since 2005. That ambassadorial post had gone unfilled since the Bush administration recalled the US ambassador in protest for what it said was Syrian involvement in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February 2005.

Less than a month later, the Syrian-backed Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah forced the collapse of Lebanon’s unity government in an attempt to thwart a UN tribunal report that was prepared to implicate members of Hezbollah in al Hariri’s murder. 14

Adding further fuel to Syrian confidence is Assad’s belief that his country is immune to the current unrest sweeping the Arab world and, as such, he will not suffer the same fate as former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Zine and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. While some may argue that viewpoint, there are several factors that make the case.

For starters–unlike the leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan–Assad is viewed by Syrians as an uncompromising opponent of both the United States and Israel. His backing of the Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as his continued challenge of Israel’s occupation of Syria’s strategic Golan Heights, allow him to maintain a level of popular support.

As explained in an editorial in Syria’s government-controlled press, the current troubles in the Arab world stem from “the complete acquiescence of some (Arab) regimes to the U.S. and their acceptance to take Zionist dictates.”

Since 2000 Assad has also enacted in Syria some of the economic reforms being clamored for by Arabs in the ongoing Mideast rebellions, specifically moving Syria away from Soviet-style economic restrictions by letting in foreign banks, allowing imports and empowering the private sector.

Of course, it also helps that Assad has another, unmentioned asset to keep power: a brutally harsh regime that routinely draws outcries from international human rights groups. Throughout his thirty-year reign Assad has been ruthless in putting down opposition uprisings, best illustrated in 1982 when he quelled a rebellion by razing the Syrian town of Hama and butchering its 40,000 citizens.

Still, despite Assad’s public bravado, he is taking few chances to test his regime’s durability in today’s political climate. For example, after allowing two small, peaceful demonstrations to be held in Damascus, he had the next demonstration quickly and violently dispersed by police.

Those clashes were followed by increasing reports of intimidation and the blocking of communications by agents of the Mukhabarat, Syria’s intelligence services. Fearful that its citizens would use the internet to exchange information and potentially organize protests, Syrian authorities placed further restrictions on the internet by banning programs that allow access to Facebook and other messaging programs. Official explanations of the ban said it was to prevent Israel from “penetrating Syrian youth.”

Of course, Syria’s current bravado has a potential downside. Israel, which has never been reluctant to forcefully protect its interests, finds itself in the most threatening situation in its history. As it looks out at the current political landscape it sees its peaceful relationships with Egypt and Jordan in jeopardy; Hezbollah in control of Lebanon; Hamas emboldened; and Iran undeterred in its quest for nuclear weapons.

So, when Hamas recently fired rockets into the Israeli city of Beersheba and was met by a fierce Israeli response, Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I don’t advise anyone to test Israel’s determination.” Or as Moshe Ya’alon put it: “I hope they won’t put our capabilities to the test.”

While their words were directed at Hamas, both men may have been just as easily talking to Syria and cautioning them about the inherent risks of its current forays. Unfortunately, for now, it seems a gamble Syria is willing to take.

Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank’s work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.

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  • mohammed

    Just to correct your mistake, I dont think the editor caught it..

    You are confusing Hafez Al Assad with Bashar Al-Assad the current President of Syria.
    Your whole article is misleading because you confuse the actions of these two men. You also fail to mention that it was the Muslim brotherhood uprisings that occurred in Syria and Egypt, not a movement of the masses.

    Your article also goes from misleading to obvious lying. It is really disappointing how bias this article is and its portrayal of Syria and the Syrian citizen.

    The reality is that Israel is doing all of the bombing, all of the occupying and maintains an apartheid state that regularly and routinely kills and ignites wars with its neighbours… The arabs have finally awoken and are dusting themselves off after downfall of western imposed tyrants.. If Israel does not respect any laws, and continues its delusional and crazy actions against the arabs the arabs will force israel to respect the peace.

    • MixMChess

      "The reality is that Israel is doing all of the bombing…"

      Nope, Hamas has been the only party engaged in bombing and firing rockets at Israeli children. Between 2001 and January 2009 alone, Hamas fired over 8,600 rockets into Israel murdering 28 civilians and seriously injuring and maiming thousands more.

      "…all of the occupying…"

      Over 85% of the Jewish National Homeland is currently illegally occupied by Arabs. Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and over 98% of the W. Bank is autonomously governed by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has already promised to further dismantle settlements in the W. Bank and give Israeli land to Palestinians as part of a final negotiated settlement for peace.

      "…and maintains an apartheid state…"

      Today, within Israel, Jews are a majority, but the Arab minority are full citizens who enjoy guaranteed equal rights under the law and are represented in all the branches of government. Under apartheid, "black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Laws dictated where they could live, work and travel. And, in South Africa, the government killed blacks who protested against its policies." By contrast, Israel allows "freedom of movement, assembly and speech." In fact, "some of the government’s harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset."

      "…that regularly and routinely kills and ignites wars with its neighbours…"

      This is laughable at best considering in 1948 when Israel declared its independence the surrounding Arab nations promptly invaded in a war of genocide and extermination of the Jews. The 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars were all instigated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Since 1987 the Palestinians have been waging a genocidal war against Israel with terrorist and rocket attacks.

      Seriously, get a clue.

  • Yuri

    Almost every single article about Syria these days reeks of Israel propaganda. They're trying to portrait Syria as an agressor, or as a collaborator of an agressor, but the only agressor in the Middle East is Israel, and it's always been Israel since the very moment this puppet country was created.

    My prayers is with Syrian people, and I hope they will stay strong in this difficult time.

    With the best wishes from Russia.

    • MixMChess

      "…but the only agressor in the Middle East is Israel, and it's always been Israel since the very moment this puppet country was created."

      in 1948 when Israel declared its independence the surrounding Arab nations, including Syria, promptly invaded in a war of genocide and extermination of the Jews. Syria again initiated aggression with Israel in 1967 and 1973.

      Besides Israel, Syria has been a force of instability in the region. In 1976, Syria intervened in the Lebanese civil war. Syria’s deployment of surface-to-air missile batteries in Lebanon, and its policy of allowing the PLO and other terrorist groups to attack Israel from there, helped trigger the 1982 Lebanon War. In 1982, Syrian agents murdered President-elect Bashir Gemayel in Lebanon. Syria has supported Hezobollah and participated in terrorist attacks against Israel as well as French and American military personnel in Lebanon.

      The 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars were all instigated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Since 1987 the Palestinians have been waging a genocidal war against Israel with terrorist and rocket attacks.

      Syria aggressively

  • Leib

    1967 was a classic Syrian/Russian act that provoked war by their phony claims of Israeli actions against Syria. Nasser chided by Syria for inaction tossed out the UN buffer force and blockaded the straits. The Russian/Syrian alliance of two tyrannies (Putin's KGB is a worthy successor to the Soviets) has brought misery to the Middle East. The previous comment makers don't fool anyone who pays reasonable attention to the facts. Analysts of Iranian and Syrian hegemonic moves of late should add Russia to their calculations as both these middle eastern nations are Russian clients and there efforts in the Med will benefit Russia's hegemonic ambitions in both the Gulf and the Mediterranian.

  • dmaak112

    Crimi’s story really takes on a flight of fancy. Israel occupies Syrian territory, not the other way around. Israeli fighters cross into Syrian airspace with impunity, not the other way around. Israel crushes hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on daily basis. Israel threatens Lebanon with destruction if the Lebanese do not do as they say. Neocons in DC are hyperventilating about the “threat” that Egypt now poses to Israel. Perhaps Crimi can write about the only country in the Middle East that does have nuclear arms. Perhaps Crimi can negotiate with Syria and have the IAEA inspect all suspected Syrian nuclear sites the SAME TIME THEY INSPECT ALL ISRAELI SUSPECTED NUCLEAR SITES. Perhaps Crimi can explain why the only country in the Mideast who has refused all calls for a nuclear free Mideast is Israel. What Crimi is doing is trying to provide a cover for more Israeli aggression.

  • Supreme_Galooty

    That "popping" sound you hear is mohammed extracting his head from his rosy red rectum.