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Can Syria be fixed?
Israel - Middle East
Friday, May 03, 2013
Alf Cengia

The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 and shows no signs of being resolved. According to United Nations statistical estimates, to date there have been at least 70,000 deaths and over 1,000,000 refugees. Some suggest that these figures need to be revised upwards.

Recently, there has been a spate of talk about crossing over the red line in regards to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against the rebels. One pundit (Tim Marshall) suggests that there's no evidence that Syria has "crossed that chemical weapon line".

Raising the old "Iraq debacle" (perhaps revealing a presuppositional bias), he asks why Assad would attempt a limited attack, which would yield no great advantage; but would also "risk losing the diplomatic support of Russia and China" and possible western intervention.

Here are just a few rambling thoughts:

Somehow I don't think Russia and China would abandon Syria for using chemical weapons on rebels. Sure, they might publicly chide them - just to keep the Pollyannas of the world happy - but that's about it. Russia, China, Syria and Iran are inseparable partners in the region.

Secondly, I don't think the West is in an awful hurry to intervene because, frankly, I don't think they quite know what to do: Who do you replace Assad with, and does one really think Russia and China are going to simply sit back and watch the West help the rebels?

Who are these rebels?

We've already read John Rosenthal's report that Al Qaeda's black flags are flying over rebel-held Syria. We know that American Islamists support the Syrian rebels. The Gatestone Institute also chimes in:

"More than 1,000 Muslims from across Europe are currently active as Islamic jihadists, or holy warriors, in Syria, which has replaced Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia as the main destination for militant Islamists seeking to obtain immediate combat experience with little or no official scrutiny."

Quoting Foreign Secretary William Hague:

"Syria is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today. This includes a number of individuals connected with the United Kingdom and other European countries. They may not pose a threat to us when they first go to Syria, but if they survive, some may return ideologically hardened and with experience of weapons and explosives." (Emphasis mine)

Assad likely feels cornered. When one is in such a situation, one is liable to resort to desperate measures. If Assad did use chemical weapons, he may well be sending a message to the rebels that there's more where that came from!

Syria Cartoon: Assad RedLineNevertheless, there seems to be some backtracking by the United Nations as to the evidence of whether Assad did or didn't. But I have to wonder if the U.N. and the Obama administration actually feel relieved that there's no evidence of chemical weapons use. That way no one has to do anything in a hurry as "no red lines have been crossed yet."

Apparently, 70,000 Syrian casualties do not constitute a red line.

Yet if Syria has "blocked unconditional and unfettered access by the U.N. mission" then there's a very good chance that it has something to hide. One Israeli diplomat insists that Israel has evidence of Assad's use of "weapons of mass destruction" and that the information is known "to all intelligence agencies".

He added that Israel should be more concerned about these weapons finding their way to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. He's right.

But if someone (such as the U.S. admin.) lives halfway across the world and doesn't really want to get involved, then they're likely to demand difficult to obtain, stringent evidence and hope the problem fixes itself - media platitudes and warnings to the Assad regime notwithstanding.

And when has the United Nations ever enacted a decisive intervention to resolve any real conflict - resolutions against Israel notwithstanding?

I propose that Syria has already crossed some sort of line, regardless of "weapons of mass destruction." In fact it has been a sponsor and exporter of terrorism for many years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations and the Human Rights Watch, Syria has been committing serious "human rights violations" since 1979:

"Syria gives the Lebanese militia Hezbollah political, diplomatic, and organizational aid, according to the State Department. Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah regularly pass through Syria, experts say. Syria, which effectively occupied and controlled neighboring Lebanon from 1990 to 2005, also let Hezbollah operate in Lebanon and attack Israel, often ratcheting up regional tensions."

In 1989, Daniel Pipes posted a fairly detailed article highlighting Syrian sponsored terrorism. He cited the case of Nezar Hindawi who was recruited by Syrian Air Force Intelligence officials to carry out a bombing on an El Al airliner.

Hindawi packed explosives in a suitcase which was to be carried by his (unsuspecting) pregnant fiancé, and arranged a separate flight for himself. The plan would have succeeded had not her flight been rebooked, thus triggering an automatic security check.

Daniel Pipes cites other examples of Damascus sponsored terrorism. He notes that Assad likes using terrorist groups under his control as proxies - Hezbollah being a prime example. According to one terrorist source:

"We don't have freedom of action. Our operations are not approved if they do not serve the interests of Damascus."

Pipes also saw a strong symbiotic relationship enjoyed by Syria, Iran and the Old Soviet Union back then. Nothing much has changed. At the time he also suggested that Syria was helping the (then) Soviet Union to destabilize Turkey so that it could exert its influence over that country.

Interestingly, NATO member Turkey has now agreed to become a "dialogue partner" of a "security bloc dominated by China and Russia, and declared that its destiny is in Asia." Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called it a historic day for Turkey.

I guess that's what an influx of Islamic extremists, flooding the region, can inspire.

Extremism can be a relative term: Wasn't Assad a covert extremist when he was using proxies to carry out his agenda? And didn't Turkey turn a blind eye to the terror organization behind the Gaza flotilla? And then, of course, there's the question of all those Russian dissenters conveniently dying.

And these are the same people who want to bring stability to Syria.

I don't know how Assad and his buddies can beat the invasion of jihadists into Syria without resorting to some drastic measures. The longer the conflict continues the more entrenched these extremists will become.

If Assad ever does survive, he'll be a harder, more emboldened individual, ready to pick up where he left off. If he fails, he'll be replaced by a nightmare. And if those chemical weapons do exist, then the "nightmare" inherits them.

But whatever regime replaces him, I suspect that Russia, Iran and China will be right there willing to talk about mutual benefits in the region.

Can Syria be fixed?

Somehow, I don't think so.

About Alf Cengia

Last week: On Excusing Evil

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