Assads poisoned Mideast’s atmosphere, engaged in multi-front war on Israel

By Mordechai Nisan, YNET

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 golan is an asset and not a liability. Ted Belman

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 woes

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.

Future Hopes

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

April 24, 2011 | 8 Comments »

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8 Comments / 8 Comments

  1. “Blood is thicker than water or in this case Islam!!! The Kurds are equal to our 4th or 5th cousins genetically!”

    My thanks for the abstract.

    I had suspected that there was a close genetic link,

    very possibly from the Babylonian Captivity.

    I offerred the Farhud story to BO, however, to illustrate that there might be connections not altogether apparent.

  2. “Israel has more to lose from peace than from war.”

    This may be so; it does seem that war is the only chance Israel ever gets to shuffle the deck.

    The question is, what would she do with all the extra territory

    (other than enhance her, admittedly skimpy, strategic depth)?

    It’s not as if she’s got a population just busting at the seams and needing space.

    And then there’s the question of ruling all those other people[s].

    Even accepting that Western-style democracy (if that’s even the right word for it) may not necessarily be the most desirable of routes to take, are you ready for the administrative headache of ruling an increased number of hostiles?

  3. “As for the Kurds, I do not consider them Israel’s natural allies.”

    If you’ll indulge me, BO, I’ll tell you a story…….

    In mid-1941, just before Operation Barbarossa, Hitler promoted a coup in Iraq. He knew that the drive on the Eastern front would require huge quantities of oil, and the Romanian oil fields & installations at Ploiesti might prove insufficient to the task. “Barbarossa,” in the words of Edwin Black, “would drink a lot of petroleum.”

    The coup did occur with the assistance of none other than Hajj Amin el-Husseini [Grand Mufti of Jerusalem], who was in fact instrumental -— together with other prominent Palestinian Arabs, including Musa Bey al-Alami (Husseini’s propaganda specialist, from Jerusalem), Akram Zuayter (military organizer, from Nablus), Dr Hussein al-Khalidi, Emile Ghouri and Wasef Kamal, as well as the German Luftwaffe, Dr Fritz Grobba [the Third Reich’s WWII answer to “Lawrence of Arabia”] and pro-Nazi Iraqi Army officers, such as Col. Salah-al-Din Sabbagh -— and as facilitated and expedited with arms & ammo provided by Vichy France -— in orchestrating the 1 April, pro-Axis, Golden Square coup of former Iraqi PM Rashid Ali al-Qailani.

    However, the Brits managed to recover control of the aerodrome at Habbaniyya, and eventually overturn the coup.

    Without a base of her own in the region, Germany was simply too far removed from the action to prevent a reversal of the government seizure and a return to Hashemite rule. A month after the coup, however, and as it was collapsing in the mistaken fear of an imminent thrust of nonexistent British motorized columns, Hajj Amin managed to set in motion, as well, what was to be his parting shot to the region

    and to its Jews:

    the infamous & bloody, Baghdad Farhud -— a Persian [viz., Farsi] expression indicating not only the total breakdown of law & order, but also something which Black has suggested may best be translated as “violent dispossession,” by which he refers perhaps not only to dispossession from material property, but also indeed to dispossession from the mental & moral faculties.

    That is to say, pathology was everywhere in play.

    It was certainly “beyond mere chaos.” Actually, writes Black, “it means something more than just a riot” [Edwin Black, Banking on Baghdad (Wiley & Sons, 2004), p. 332]: and it saw the massacring of the city’s Jews when the news spread that the coup had itself been overturned, and -— according to Hajj Amin’s relentless & malicious propaganda -— by the instrumentality of ‘Jewish machinations.’ (If only it were true…….)

    The slaughter had the assistance of the Iraqi Minister of Economics, Yunis al-Sab’awi.

    Baghdad at the time was home to 90,000 Jews, who constituted a fourth of the city’s total population and two-thirds of Iraq’s Jewish (and thoroughly assimilated, anti-Zionist) community. On May 29, as Husseini, Raschid Ali and the other major conspirators were quietly making good their escape, Sab’awi appointed himself Military Governor of Baghdad & ruler of the south central region. Refusing to concede an end to the revolt, he called the President of the Baghdad Jewish community, and ordered him to restrict all Jews to their homes for the three-day period of May 29 to June 2.

    Next, he directed the paramiltary youth group, Katayib al-Shabab, to mark each-and-every Jewish house & storefront in red paint. But this was NOT for the purpose of signaling the Angel-of-Death to pass over the community. Shabawi sent to the primary radio station a message exhorting the broader Arab population of Baghdad to massacre the Jews.

    The actual broadcast was blocked, and al-Sab’awi was arrested & deported by the British, and later hanged [20 July 41]. Not all such urgings were thwarted, however; the groundwork had been laid.

    On the first two days of June, during the Jewish festival of Shavu’oht (Pentecost): commemorating, as part of the Almighty’s covenant with Israel, the giving, and revelation, to her of the Torah at Sinai, the city erupted in a fury of bloodlust. . . .and lawlessness, with uniformed Iraqi troops and Baghdad’s own police openly & actively participating -— along with enthusiastic university & secondary school students -— in the two days of carnage & rape that ultimately left as many as 600 — or more — Iraqi Jews dead.

    Fatalities have actually been estimated at substantially higher levels, but, as Black has noted, “The final toll may never be known, [as] Rabbis were forced to sign statements vastly minimizing the numbers of casualties.” [Black, Op cit., p. 334] Jews were forbidden by the government to bury their dead. Instead the government itself collected the dead and buried them all in one mass grave.

    “Iraqi soldiers, police and members of youth groups seized Jewish pedestrians, bound them hand & foot, and threw them under the wheels of tramcars, others were stabbed. Murder, pillage, rape and the burning of Jewish shops & houses continued for two days.”

    [Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Miriam Kochan, David Littman, trans. (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, Rutherford, NJ, 2002)]

    Children were tossed into the Euphrates, or disembowelled in the presence of their parents. A virtually demonic madness seems to have poisoned -— indeed, inhabited -— the very air. The Batawe’en District [Baghdad’s main Jewish quarter] became the scene of a free-for-all slaughter.

    “At the Muallem-Cohen house, young Nezima was terrified. Her father had just returned from a morning foray to inspect a nearby synagogue [which had been invaded, desecrated, pillaged—its Sifrei Torah, its scrolls of the Torah, defiled -— and the building, torched -— dweller]. He was relating the terrible stories he had heard about daughters being raped and homes burned, when suddenly shouting, armed men crashed through his own front gates.

    “Quick, Mr Muallem-Cohen rushed his family to the stairs to escape to the roof. Up they scampered, first young Nezima, then her mother, and then her father. A shot—Mr Muallem-Cohen was dead. Mrs Muallem-Cohen looked back in horror. Just then a policeman appeared. ‘They killed my husband,’ she shrieked.

    “ ‘How do you want to die?’ he snapped back, and cracked her skull with his gun.”

    [Itamar Levin, Locked Doors: The Seizure of Jewish Property in Arab Countries, Rachel Neiman, trans. (Praeger, Westport, CT, 2001), pp. 5-6; cited in Black, Op cit., p. 333]

    Meanwhile large detachments of British forces: having just regained control of the country -— with assistance from Assyrian Christian auxiliaries (‘Levies’) as well as from the British-trained, Arab Legion (of the neighboring, fellow Hashemite, Transjordanian regime of cooperative British client, Emir Abdullah), commanded by Glubb Pasha, but with all said Allied forces under strict orders to avoid the appearance of a counter-coup

    -— stood at the gates of the city, as the pogrom proceeded, none of them lifting a finger.

    Order would ultimately be restored only by intervention from two loyalist brigades -— mostly Kurds -— of the Royal Iraqi Army, from the Kirkuk region.

    May I suggest to you that some things are not forgotten.

  4. ArnoldHarris – lots of well-chosen words…

    …He has chosen to force the Jewish nation in Israel to become once again a warrior people…

    The entire history of the pre-independence Yishuv in the late 19th and century and early 20th century and the State of Israel, has been the hardening of the Jewish nation into a formidable warrior state…

    All that counts is land and the audacity to take it and keep it. He who dares, wins.

    Most of the world spent multiple millenii mocking Jewish culture. But nobody mocks Jewish guns.

    Now if only I could afford to buy one of the new Tavor rifles…

  5. BO,

    The Kurds are just waiting for their main national enemy, Turkey, to involve themselves in a struggle elsewhere. Moreover, the Soviet Union may have lost interest in turning Istanbul back into Tsargrad, but Russia never has forgotten. Also, they and the Chinese have never-ending imperial aspirations. Russia, China and India all would be fine allies for the kind of Israel that I have had in mind for a long time. I can hardly wait for the crunch to come over what is left of the world oil supply, and they all start enslaving the Arabs in order to get what’s left. Times like that spell opportunity for strategically-placed and well-organized countries such as Israel. And the Jewish state has a unique opportunity to become rich and powerful selling the rest of the world high-quality and relatively low-cost armaments with which to slaughter one another. Most of the world spent multiple millenii mocking Jewish culture. But nobody mocks Jewish guns.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  6. Arnold,

    You may get your wish concerning Israel re-conquering lands that rightfully belong to her. If Syria plunges into sectarian war, the Druze of the south will probably need protection against massacre by their neighbors; and the Israelis are their natural protectors. Whether or not the Israeli government will have the guts to do such a thing, of course, is a valid concern. The land of Bashan, which includes Damascus, the Druze areas and all the southern third of Syria, has been historically Israeli since the days of Joshua, so there is no question of rights there. What’s more, I am under the impression that Lord Rothschild purchased large tracts of land there for Jewish settlement, but those lands were stolen by the Syrian government. If the Israelis do intervene, though, it will probably be in an atmosphere where the Turks ALSO intervene in the rest of the country, to assert THEIR historical rights over the region; and conflict (Ezekiel 38) will be inevitable.

    As for the Kurds, I do not consider them Israel’s natural allies. They are even divided among themselves, between leading clans with ancient enmities against one another. Sala a Din, who drove the Crusaders from Jerusalem and conquered Egypt (the Ayyubid Dynasty) was a Kurd. He is revered by Israel’s enemies.

  7. I don’t really give a damn how many of their inhabitants the Syrian Baathists have despoiled, stolen civil rights from or shot dead in response to street riots in Syria’s cities or those of any other Arab or Moslem country. In fact, the nastier they are to their own kind, the more I like it and the more it fits what I think should be the long-term developmental goals of the Jewish nation.

    My rationale is that Syria sits on lands that I want the Jewish nation to take and keep, at least as far northeastward as the headwaters of the Euphrates river system, where Israel could link up with its natural allies, the Kurdish nation. In order to facilitate that, it is better for the State of Israel that Syria be treated as a permanent enemy. My same reasoning applies to Egypt in regard to the Sinai, southern Lebanon including all parts not in the hands of the Lebanese Christians who are also natural allies of the Jewish state, but only as long as they perceive the Moslems as major threats to them and their independence. The same applies to Transjordan all the way east to the edge of the Syrian desert.

    As I have written before, Israel has more to lose from peace than from war and it has more to lose from a democratic political system than a nationalist political system backed by armed forces capable of wiping off the map all their surrounding enemies as soon as the orders are cut.

    So if I feel compelled to thank ha-Shem for anything, I do so because He has chosen to force the Jewish nation in Israel to become once again a warrior people, and I hope circumstances will never again be permitted the false luxuries and long-term national degradations of western-style peace and democracy. And no, I do not care whether the prospect of any of that horrifies any of my fellow Jews. The entire history of the pre-independence Yishuv in the late 19th and century and early 20th century and the State of Israel, has been the hardening of the Jewish nation into a formidable warrior state. Let others bleat about Israel’s “moral army. What I see is a force of implacable and well-trained killers, and that is precisely what I want them to be. Because anything else would in the end doom Israel to extinction.

    All that counts is land and the audacity to take it and keep it. He who dares, wins.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI