Explosions illuminated the skies over Damascus on Friday and Sunday causing casualties. But these weren’t the work of the Bashar Al Assad/Iran/Hezbollah camp or its opponents—the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat Al Nusra or Al Qaida. Israel has muscled into the raging conflict attacking an alleged military research centre close to the capital and a consignment of Iranian guided missiles en route to Tehran’s proxy, Hezbollah.
Israel has confirmed its intervention, maintaing that it will not tolerate the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah’s military wing. But at a time when Hezbollah’s attention is focused on elements attempting to bring down the Syrian regime rather than Israel, could Tel Aviv be using weapons transfer as a pretext to manipulate the Syrian conflict to suit its own interests?
Put simply, is Israel trying to provoke Al Assad into retaliating so as to heap pressure on the US to get involved? President Barack Obama is currently wavering. He has little appetite to embroil his nation in yet another war in the Middle East and is reluctant to align Washington with Syrian radicals and foreign terrorists congregating in Syria like bees to honey.
Obama is in an unenviable quandary when the self-styled regional guardian is considered by some to be morally bound to intercede on humanitarian grounds to stop the carnage. But if Al Assad is foolish enough to strike Israel, the US will inevitably be dragged into a complex fray that could easily escalate to a stage when America is forced to strike Iran, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been unsuccessfully urging the US to do for almost a decade.
Moreover, even if Assad and his cronies are forcibly sent packing, it’s likely their exit will signal revenge attacks on Alawite communities and others that have remained faithful to the government. The cherished ambition of those, who initially participated in the Arab Spring uprising seeking political pluralism has become a pipedream when in all probability the regime will be succeeded by Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
It’s possible, too, that the country could be split up into sectarian cantons. Here it’s worth quoting from a paper penned in 1982 by Oded Yinon, a journalist attached to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which was published in the World Zionist’s publication Kivunim (Directions).
“The dissolution of Syria and Iraq later on into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon, is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front in the long run, while the dissolution of the military power those states serves as the primary short term target. Syria will fall apart, in accordance with its ethnic and religious structure, into several states . . . so that there will be a Shiite Alawite state along its coast, a Sunni state in the Aleppo area, another Sunni state in Damascus hostile to its northern neighbour, and the Druze will set up a state, maybe even in our Golan . . . This state of affairs will be the guarantee for peace and security in the area in the long run, and that aim is already within our reach today.”
Yinon’s projections may have missed the mark by a few decades but it’s reasonable to assume that if a carve-up of Syria was to Israel’s benefit in 1982, a toothless neighbour that would leave Hezbollah weakened and out-on-a-limb remains an Israeli policy goal.
Obama has set himself up by announcing that if Al Assad is proven to have used chemical weapons that would be a red line. Allegedly, those weapons considered WMD have been used on a small scale, but proof still eludes investigators. Nevertheless Britain and France have been urging Obama to put his money where his mouth is by launching a military response.
If Lawrence Wilkerson, a former chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was US secretary of state, is correct, the assertion that Al Assad used chemical weapons—hotly denied by the regime—could be nothing more than a false flag operation conducted by Israel to implicate the Syrian government. This story has been headlined in several Israeli dailies indicating that the Israeli media is taking it seriously. Wilkerson is known to be a straight-talker. He didn’t hesitate to refer to his former boss’s speech to the UN indicting Saddam for his mythical hordes of WMD as “a hoax.”
There are no quick fixes for the Syrian swamp and no perfect outcomes. If Al Assad remains in place, his regime and its allies will feel invincible. The Syrian people’s uprising will have gone for nothing; so many lives will have been wasted. On the other hand, his toppling will be followed by a bloodbath and a political power play like the one under way in Iraq that could leave Syria forever torn—and Israel enjoying the last laugh.
There is a solution that will no doubt be unpalatable to many, but is a lesser evil. The US armed with carrots could initiate bilateral dialogue with Syria about ways of ending the mess, using the tool of friendly persuasion to encourage both sides of the conflict to work out compromises; perhaps allowing Al Assad time to call for transparent multi-party elections and make plans for a dignified exit strategy.
As Churchill rightly said, “To jaw, jaw is better than to war, war.”
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Erdogan of Turkey has been co-opted by israel and US to go against the wishes of the Turkish people. Their newspapers are filled with hatred for him as he lies for Israel. Erdogan is about to face the Turkish people as they begin to rally for his ouster. There is a truly democratic group in Turkey who want to keep Turkey secular..Erdogan has now outlawed women wearing lipstick!