Syria, Lebanon and Terrorism; Repeating the Story of 1998

Article excerpt

Byline: Yossi Olmert, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When Syrian dictator Hafez Assad finally died in 2000, hopes were high in Damascus, Western capitals and even Jerusalem about a possible change in this country. The heir apparent Bashar Assad was educated in England, and was an Internet user. With such credentials, the naive belief was that he would initiate Western-style reforms and might even make peace with Israel.

All these expectations disappeared rather quickly, none more so than in the souks and bazaars of Damascus. There, a new joke circulated about the Assad regime. Whereas, under Hafez, the dictator blinked and his henchmen understood the message, now the henchmen blinked and Bashar understood. Be that as it may, the fact is that Bashar inherited an idiosyncratic regime, resisting any change and fortified behind high walls of long-held brutality and violence.

Clearly, Bashar followed the basic doctrines of his father's regime and differed only on style. The young man talks much more than his father did and is known to be very impatient. However, he has followed the rigid anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-Iranian policies of his father. He has also continued the unabated use of terrorism and the intensive involvement in Lebanon. For the Assad regime, terrorism is a modus operandi. They used it against their own people, most notably in the massacres of the Sunni Muslims in February and March 1982. Those who use terrorism against their own compatriots will most likely do it, and with great joy, against their external enemies.

Lebanon has been the main killing field for Syrian terrorism. The most authoritative expose of Syrian policy with regard to Lebanon is in a speech given by Hafez Assad as early as July 1976, following the Syrian invasion of this country. In it the dictator explained that Lebanon was basically a domestic Syrian problem, due to the historic connections between the two countries. Besides, Lebanon allowed Syria to intervene in Palestinian politics. But Lebanon provided a crucial potential danger to Syria's own stability, because of its traditional democratic and capitalist system, and its mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups - much as with Syria. Disintegration of Lebanon, so said the dictator, could lead to the same situation in Syria, where a minority of Allawis dominated the Sunni majority. …