Assads poisoned Mideast’s atmosphere, engaged in multi-front war on Israel
by: Mordechai Nisan
Even in our world colored with grays and not only blacks and whites, the fall of the Assad regime in Damascus would be a great blessing for the Middle East and the world. Nonetheless, for some Israelis this would be a hard blow to suffer, because it might signify that Israel will be stuck with the Golan Heights for the long future.
The list of Syria’s misdemeanors and crimes is legion. From belligerent Soviet ally to godfather and patron of Palestinian terrorism, Hafez the father and Bashar the son crafted a policy strategy that demonized Israel, betrayed the Arab world, consolidated the regional hegemony of Iran, and perpetuated an Alawite sectarian regime in defiance of the Sunni Muslim majority in the country. Acting against their countrymen, the Assads persecuted the Kurds, intimidated the Druze, and despoiled the tiny Jewish community.
The quest for power whetted the ambition of the mountain family from Qardaha. They reached for rule in the 1960s, grabbed it in 1970, and held it with a vengeance employing a brutal dictatorship, a regime of fear, while waving tattered Arabist anti-Israeli slogans.
The invasion of Lebanon in 1976 that culminated in a ruthless and bloodthirsty occupation only seemingly ended in 2005; throughout it was a scandalous violation of Lebanese human rights, national identity, and political independence. A series of Syrian assassinations of key Christian Lebanese personalities did not exclude, we shall never doubt, the former Sunni Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Syrian interventionism also played a destructive role in Iraq to foil America’s goal of fashioning stability in the post-Saddam era on the fractured Baghdadian political landscape.
Israeli sorrows and sufferings from the Assads’ Syria were far more insidious in comparison to any inflicted upon the Jewish state by any other country. Perhaps this litany of havoc began with the October 1973 Yom Kippur War that continued until May 1974 on the Golan front.
Syria’s torturing of Israeli POWs should never be forgotten. The smashing of Lebanon in the 1970s, as in the Hundred Days War in Beirut in 1978, and supporting Palestinian warfare against the Lebanese, including the barbaric massacre of Christian communities, was designed to deny Israel a free Lebanon that would be a friendly neighbor.
Syria allying with Hezbollah from the 1980s and facilitating its armaments pipeline and fighting doctrine bled Israel, demoralized the Jews, and contributed to the reprehensible and reckless IDF withdrawal in May, 2000. When Syria forged intimate ties with Iran, soon after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it became clear that Khomeini’s jihad was now comfortably pre-positioned on Israel’s northern border regions.
Syria worked assiduously to strategically isolate Israel in the Middle East in putting together a politically unorthodox alliance system. Israel’s former regional partner, Sunni non-Arab Turkey, was enticed by its own ambitions to adopt an adversarial anti-Israel position.
The Syrian-Turkey connection warmed up, and their joint pro-Palestinian stance emitted a virulent rancor. The Damascene headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad radiated Assad’s centralizing leadership role in the war against Israel. This was no less apparent with Syria’s emerging nuclear program, which Israel confronted in bombing its facility in 2007.
All the while official and non-official Israeli movers and shakers, loyal to their paradigm and disloyal to their people, fantasized that Bashar Assad was really interested in peace with Israel, and but for Jerusalem’s obstinacy a deal would be concluded.
This interpretation was divorced from the glaring strategic data and Syrian political connections that had ripened over the years. The fact that the Golan Heights was a tranquil front since 1974 did not prove the Assads’ inclination toward peace with Israel, but rather indicated that the multi-front war Syria was directing against Israel could be superbly effective as an indirect strategy conducted with impunity.
When and if the Assad regime falls, the collapse of Iranian hegemony across the region may not be far behind. The Arab Sunni world will rejoice that wayward Syria has been separated from the Tehran Shiite-dominated axis. Losing its strategic hinterland and ideological benefactor, Hezbollah too will suffer a blow which will catalyze re-arranging power relations in the forlorn land of the cedars.
Freedom in Damascus will contribute to the recovery of freedom in Beirut. I believe, in rejecting the fossilized Israeli establishment view, that the end of Syrian domination of Lebanon is absolutely the moral and reasonable political interest for Israel.
A regime change in Damascus opens up the possibility of various domestic options: a Sunni fundamentalist state, a liberal polity, maybe a federated entity based on the geo-ethnic pluralism of the country. Despite turbulence in Syrian streets and politics, Israel’s military might assures her safety as she possesses both deterrent and offensive capabilities that will challenge Syria in the days ahead, regardless of the outcome of the revolutionary changes that now and will confront her.
We can now well appreciate the wisdom in the traditional Israeli stance since 1967 of settlement, development, and territorial retention of the Golan Heights. This obvious strategic resource adorned with manifest values of topography and water, a terrain decked with Jewish history and demographic tranquility, would be abandoned only in a fit of mental infirmity.
And with the Assads gone, the Middle East as a whole will be able to move to transcend the state of terror and tension with which the Syrian regime poisoned the political atmosphere for over four long decades.
Dr. Mordechai Nisan is a retired teacher of Middle East Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
More Quotes About "Palestine"
"There is no such country as Palestine. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria. 'Palestine' is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it".
- Auni Bey Abdul-Hadi, Syrian Arab leader to British Peel Commission, 1937 -
"There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not".
- Professor Philip Hitti, Arab historian, 1946 -
"It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but Southern Syria".
- Representant of Saudi Arabia at the United Nations, 1956 -
Concerning the Holy Land, the chairman of the Syrian Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919 stated:
"The only Arab domination since the Conquest in 635 c.e. hardly lasted, as such, 22 years".
"There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent (valley of Jezreel, Galilea); not for thirty miles in either direction... One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings. For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee... Nazareth is forlorn... Jericho lies a mouldering ruin... Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation... untenanted by any living creature... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... a silent, mournful expanse... a desolation... We never saw a human being on the whole route... Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil had almost deserted the country... Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes... desolate and unlovely...".
- Mark Twain, "The Innocents Abroad", 1867 -
"In 1590 a 'simple English visitor' to Jerusalem wrote: 'Nothing there is to bescene but a little of the old walls, which is yet remayning and all the rest is grasse, mosse and weedes much like to a piece of rank or moist grounde'.".
- Gunner Edward Webbe, Palestine Exploration Fund,
Quarterly Statement, p. 86; de Haas, History, p. 338 -
"The land in Palestine is lacking in people to till its fertile soil".
- British archaeologist Thomas Shaw, mid-1700s -
"Palestine is a ruined and desolate land".
- Count Constantine François Volney, XVIII century French author and historian -
"The Arabs themselves cannot be considered but temporary residents. They pitched their tents in its grazing fields or built their places of refuge in its ruined cities. They created nothing in it. Since they were strangers to the land, they never became its masters. The desert wind that brought them hither could one day carry them away without their leaving behind them any sign of their passage through it".
- Comments by Christians concerning the Arabs in Palestine in the 1800s -
"Then we entered the hill district, and our path lay through the clattering bed of an ancient stream, whose brawling waters have rolled away into the past, along with the fierce and turbulent race who once inhabited these savage hills. There may have been cultivation here two thousand years ago. The mountains, or huge stony mounds environing this rough path, have level ridges all the way up to their summits; on these parallel ledges there is still some verdure and soil: when water flowed here, and the country was thronged with that extraordinary population, which, according to the Sacred Histories, was crowded into the region, these mountain steps may have been gardens and vineyards, such as we see now thriving along the hills of the Rhine. Now the district is quite deserted, and you ride among what seem to be so many petrified waterfalls. We saw no animals moving among the stony brakes; scarcely even a dozen little birds in the whole course of the ride".
- William Thackeray in "From Jaffa To Jerusalem", 1844 -
"The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population".
- James Finn, British Consul in 1857 -
"The area was underpopulated and remained economically stagnant until the arrival of the first Zionist pioneers in the 1880's, who came to rebuild the Jewish land. The country had remained "The Holy Land" in the religious and historic consciousness of mankind, which associated it with the Bible and the history of the Jewish people. Jewish development of the country also attracted large numbers of other immigrants - both Jewish and Arab. The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts... Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen... The plows used were of wood... The yields were very poor... The sanitary conditions in the village [Yabna] were horrible... Schools did not exist... The rate of infant mortality was very high... The western part, toward the sea, was almost a desert... The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria, many villages were deserted by their inhabitants".
- The report of the British Royal Commission, 1913 -