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Sunday, October 4, 2015

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The usual bad theatre

Tags: Columnists

It is likely true that no area in the Middle East is being more closely watched presently by governments around the world and their myriad security forces than Syria. Even more than Mali where French soldiers recently put their boots on the ground to fight Al Qaeda Islamists, Syria – one of the historic crossroads joining Europe to Africa and Asia – has become a daily chaos of intra-Muslim cruelty, bloodletting and proxy war.

More than 60,000 Syrians have been killed in the past two years, mostly at the hands of other Syrians and mostly under the direction of Syria’s own ruler, Bashar Assad.

The Soviets have invested in his regime. Their fleet docks at the Syrian Mediterranean port of Latakia. But it is the Iranians who keep Assad in the ruler’s palace. Tehran has essentially taken over the defence of the Syrian regime.

The fighting in Syria can therefore be seen at various levels: pro-Assad versus anti-Assad; Sunni Muslim versus Shia Muslim; pro-Saudi versus pro-Irani; Al Qaeda Islamists versus Khameni Islamists and so on. And it can also be described as breathtakingly cruel. Neither woman nor child has been spared from the enemy’s bloodlust.

The United Nations and even the Arab League have condemned the Assad-inspired slaughter of Syrian civilians. But no outside force has intervened to try to stop it. Nor will they, because to do so risks engaging Iran and possibly, Russia too.

 The chaos in Syria, however, has not been confined to Syria. 

Like a river of hot, molten lava, it has spilled onto adjacent lands, scorching what it touches. 

Syrians fleeing their homes have landed in large numbers in Jordan and Turkey. Neither country wants the refugees. Jordan has since closed its border to them.

Lebanese have fought Syrians. Indeed, some Lebanese are even fighting other Lebanese. Turks have fought Syrians. And the Iranians, of course, are fighting everyone inside Syria opposed to Bashar, their cynical, sinister satrap. 

Shots, too, have been fired at Israel. Israel is concerned about errant or deliberate shooting across the border. It is also concerned about the possibility of attempted incursions by terrorists. Thus, the Jewish state is now building a re-fortified fence along its northern border.

But it is justifiably obsessed in ensuring that Syria’s known cache of unconventional weapons not finds its way into the hands of Hezbollah, Iran’s surrogate, or other anti-Israel forces. 

In his column this week, Paul Michaels concisely describes Israel’s obsession, “The most pressing security concern for Israel is the looming possibility that, as Syria’s civil war rages, the country’s chemical weapons could fall into the hands of rebel Sunni Islamic forces or be transferred to the Shia forces of Hezbollah that, under the guidance of Iran, support Damascus. Either way, Israel has made it clear that any attempt to transfer such deadly weapons would be a ‘red line’ and would be countered.”

It was against this background that an aerial strike was conducted last week in Syria, allegedly by Israel, possibly against a convoy carrying anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon, or possibly against a research facility where non-conventional weapons were stored, or possibly against a warehouse of chemical weapons, or all of them, or some of them. As of this writing, the true details of the attack are not known. 

Israel did not comment on the attack.

But every other nation in the region, it seems, has. And each one outdoes the other in parody, hypocrisy, obscenity and sheer charade. 

Leading the race to the microphone was Hezbollah. One of its spokesmen called the strike “barbaric.”

Egypt condemned the attack as being illegal. Resorting to the time-worn but phony call to pan-Arab loyalties – and totally disregarding the inter-Arab killing that is the prominent hallmark of current life in Syria – Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr disingenuously said, “Such an assault on Arab land is entirely rejected and represents a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law.” 

Echoing the Egyptian foreign minister, the head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, called the strike a “glaring violation” of an Arab country’s sovereignty.

And the quite petulant prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, berated Israel even as he goaded and mocked Syria for its passivity against the strike. 

Although it was fiendishly sanctimonious, only Hezbollah’s indignation was sincere. 

Egypt, the Arab League and even the supremely priggish Turkish government were quite pleased with the result of the strike, whatever it was.     

Their public reproach of Israel was bad theatre. 

And, of course, that is part of the deep-seated, structural problem in the Middle East. Rather than speak truth to their own people and to the world, governments there always prefer to point an accusing finger at the Jewish state.



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