[Marxism] The Syrians' Fear Factor about being assaulted by Israel and the US is a big component of the rebellion against Assad for many

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 5 06:29:31 MDT 2011

On 8/5/11 1:30 AM, pinchy way wrote:
> Yes, Syrians have a right to be fearful of Assad's government getting them
> into a battle they will lose big time.   Many of them want to surrender to
> the Big Guys and try to stay safe, and Assad continues to stand up to the US
> and israel instead.


Unholy Alliance: How Syria is Bringing Israel, Iran, and Saudi
Arabia Together

By Steven A. Cook

In the new Middle East, a previously unthinkable coalition is
One of the iron fisted rules of the Middle East seems to be "what
an Assad giveth, an Assad also taketh away." Since protests began
in his country, Syrian President Bashar al Assad has lifted the
emergency law, abolished state security courts, and stepped up the
repression that has been a hallmark of his now 11-year rule. No
one should be surprised that Syria's security forces have used
violence against peaceful demonstrators. Still, if there was any
lingering doubt about the nature of the regime, the 500 or more
dead in the streets across several Syrian cities should be plenty
evidence of its brutality.

Many smart people, in Washington and elsewhere, have long been
willing to forgive the Assad family for their many sins, going
back to the tenure of Bashar's father, Hafiz al Assad, who ruled
from 1971 to 2000. The allure of bringing the Syrian-Israeli state
of war to an end and the tantalizing possibility (a fantasy, it
turns out) of breaking the Tehran-Damascus axis led observers to
believe that Hafiz was capable of making peace and that Bashar was
a reformer. Bashar has been tolerated, engaged, even supported in
the hopes that the world could entice him, with the prospects of
good relations with the West, to change. But there was never any
real evidence that Damascus was genuinely interested in peace or

As the world (slowly) comes to grips with the horror of Syria and
the Assads, there remains a coalition of nations that appear to be
acting under the belief that the Assad regime is better than what
might come next. It's an odd group in the rather strange new world
of the Middle East: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. For
the Israelis, already reeling from the loss of a regional
strategic asset -- Hosni Mubarak's Egypt -- the predictability of
Assad's Syria was some consolation. Israel and Syria may be in a
technical state of war, but the Syrians have scrupulously kept the
armistice on the Golan Heights and it has been a long time since
Syria's military posed any significant security threat to Israel.
The Israelis put a premium on authoritarian stability in the Arab
world, where they fear change will almost always rebound to the
benefit of hostile Islamist groups. Sitting in Tel Aviv or
Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Israeli leadership is having
serious qualms about the unrest in Syria. Assad may be an
implacable foe, but he is better than the Syrian Muslim
Brotherhood. From the perspective of the Israeli security
establishment, at least Assad is doing what Hosni Mubarak should
have done: using all available means to save his regime.

For the better part of the last decade, Saudi Arabia has not had
very good relations with Syria. But the Arab spring has so
unnerved Riyadh that King Abdallah appears willing to let bygones
be bygones. In late March, when the protests in Syria were just
starting to develop beyond Daraa, the King called Assad to offer
his political support. In the short run at least, Riyadh appears
willing to overlook both Assad's three decades-long strategic
alliance with Saudi Arabia's rival, Iran, as well as Syria's
growing influence in Lebanon, which comes at the expense of
Saudi's own ability to sway events there. The support for Assad is
consistent with Saudi strategy throughout the Arab Spring, which
has included support for Bahrain's ruling family and King
Abdallah's offer to Hosni Mubarak that he would make up the loss
of American aid if the Egyptians undertook a major crackdown.
Clearly, the Saudis regard the transformation of the region as a
threat to their interests and stability and will do whatever they
can to help bring the uprisings to an end.

The least surprising member of the region's pro-Assad camp is
Iran. Tehran has been trying to tell anyone who will listen that
the unrest in the Arab world demonstrates the righteousness of the
Iranian revolution and that change in the region only bolsters
Iranian interests and influence. Not exactly. So far, this has
been mostly a wash for Iran. There is nothing in the Arab
uprisings that suggests their instigators want to emulate the
Islamic Republic; though, of course, Islamist groups may yet
benefit from more open systems in the Arab world. Still, Arabs are
demonstrating and dying for more freedom, not for another form of
authoritarianism under the guise of theological messianism. And
while change in Egypt weakens the region's anti-Iranian axis, this
does not appear to augur the flowering of Tehran-Cairo ties. Both
Egypt and Iran are big and important countries who maintain the
pretenses of regional leadership and influence. They are more
likely to be strategic competitors than partners. Change in Syria
would be far more problematic for Iran. Damascus is, after all,
Tehran's most important gateway to Arab politics, the focal point
through which it has been able to insert itself directly into the
Arab-Israeli conflict, among other regional issues. A Syria that
is less hospitable to Iran would not end Tehran's regional
influence and ambitions, but it would certainly be a setback for
both. That's why along, with Jerusalem and Riyadh, Tehran is
hoping that Bashar al Assad has what it takes to hang on.

Finally, the Turks find themselves in the awkward position of
supporting their ally and partner, Bashar. Ankara was tough on
Mubarak, wavered on Qaddafi until it became untenable for them to
continue wavering, and has been noticeably hushed on Assad. Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invested a great deal of time
and energy in his relationship with the Syrian president. Erdogan,
it was long hoped, would be the one guy who could finally flip
Assad, bring him in from the cold, and help make him respectable.
The Turks have been leveraging their much-vaunted influence in
Damascus to quietly counsel the Syrians to halt the violence and
undertake reform, but so far they have come up empty. Late last
week Erdogan sent a delegation to Damascus - supposedly with a
tough message for Assad about the need for more rapid and
meaningful reform -- and Ankara has joined Washington and Brussels
in condemning the use of force against peaceful protestors. These
are positive developments, but Turkey's ambiguous calls for
"democratization" do not include an explicit call for Assad to
step down.

Don't expect Ankara to go much further than it has. The Turkish
leadership likes its relationship with Syria. Erdogan's well-known
rapport with Assad helps give the Turkish prime minister the Arab
world street cred he so cherishes, and the close relationship with
Syria is good for both Turkish business and security. Ankara may
be the most reluctant member of this virtual pro-Assad coalition,
but it also has a lot to lose if Assad falls. As much as it may be
uncomfortable for them, the Turks are unlikely to abandon their
man in Damascus.

Of course, the region's pro-Assad team is hardly a durable
coalition. These countries do not exactly like one another. But
the fact that they are all in their own way hoping Bashar al Assad
manages to hang tough and survive demonstrates just how much these
countries fear the transforming regional political landscape.
Nothing creates stranger bedfellows than a common enemy: in this
case, change.

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