by Mordechai Kedar
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The drums of war are becoming ever louder; louder and closer. With passing hour, the Middle East inches closer to the moment of truth, when the masks will be removed, with the American attack on Asad. As of this writing, on Wednesday morning, August 28, 2013, the Arabic media are all concentrating on only one thing: the American attack on Syria, which is expected to take place within the next few days.
At this point, the Arabs and Muslims have honed their positions and clarified their attitudes, because the penetrating questions can no longer be avoided: do you support the attack on Syria, an Arab country with a Muslim majority, or object to it? Do you support Asad or the Americans? Would the Middle East be better off if Asad falls or not? Who would benefit from such an attack?
Many Arab spokesmen mention a similar attack ten and a half years ago on Saddam, another "president of mass destruction", "the Arab's liaison officer to Paradise", who was sent to the garbage heap of history in March 2003, but not before he brought upon himself and his surroundings untolled suffering. Ironically, Bashar al-Asad objected to the attack on Saddam then, because he understood that foreign intervention in the Middle East cannot have good results. Bashar may even have feared that the day might come when he himself would stand before a Western firing squad.
The comparison to the Iraqi events brings to mind the chaos that occurred in Iraq after Saddam was eliminated as well. Suicide terror that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people until now, unending conflicts between tribes, jihad organizations, militias and various ethnic sects and groups, as a result of which, Iraq has disintegrated and sunk into a swamp of blood, fire and tears.
The questions that are discussed in the Arab media regarding the anticipated attack are great in scope and important:
- Will Asad survive the attack? Most of the spokesmen relate their answer to the sort of attack, its breadth and its duration: if the attack is short, focused and not drastic, then it can be assumed that Asad will survive and continue to slaughter his people by conventional means, which have caused the death of more than a hundred thousand Syrians, since the hypocritical Western world accepts these means.
On the other hand, if the attack is over a wide area, includes military and civilian targets and continues for a long time, then there is only a small chance that Asad will survive, because his army has been weakened, Hizb'Allah will take a beating and the rebel militias will do to him what the Libyan tribes did to Qadhaffi.
- Will the Syrian army and the ruling group continue to be loyal to Asad, who brought this attack upon them? We can assume that there will be more defections among both the army and civilians, but this is not what would end Asad's era in power, because he can fill the slots of the defectors with other murderers.
Will the attack be limited to military targets or will it include civilian targets and civilian and economic infrastructure? Most of the Arab spokesmen tend to believe that the attack will focus - at least in the first phase - on military targets, and if the impression is created that Asad is beginning to turn defeat into victory, the attack will likely continue and widen to include governmental targets.
- What will be the reaction of Asad's friends, Russia and Iran? These countries have already cautioned that they will not remain passive. Russia apparently will not respond with direct military action in order to prevent a deterioration into war between itself and the United States. Iran - on the other hand - might escalate the tension in the Gulf, and perhaps even initiate terror attacks in some oil facilities. This might cause a shock in the oil market, that would be expressed in higher prices of oil in the world.
Will Asad try to take revenge on the United States by attacking Israel? This may be, and Israel must be prepared. Moreover, there is a significant chance for an increase in attacks against United States embassies and American military installations throughout the world in revenge for the action in Syria.
- Will Asad use weapons of mass destruction against Israel? We can assume that he will not, because Israel would aim its missiles at Assad's neck, to decapitate him.
In the era after Asad, will Syria disintegrate like Iraq did? At any rate, Syria already does not function as a united country: the Kurds in the northeast of the country now call their section "Western Kurdistan", and this area has generally enjoyed peace and quiet during the past two years, despite a few clashes between the Turks and the jihadists who try to enlist them against Asad.
- Will Asad take revenge against its neighbors, Turkey and Jordan, for actively supporting the rebels? Maybe, if, in his final hour he launches his entire stock of missiles to take the maximum number of enemies and rivals to Hell along with him. This scenario is not totally illogical.
In the Arab world, when an attack such as the anticipated one occurs, it is accompanied by deep questions regarding the entire region: Why can't we - the Arabs and the Muslims - deal with our conflicts by ourselves? Why do we need Western forces, who are heretics, to rescue us from ourselves? Why is the job of the Arab League always to invite NATO forces to do our dirty work for us, dirty work that the Arab nation should do, but is incapable of doing?
Similar questions arose in Egypt in September 1994, about the United Nations Conference of Population and Development organization (UNPD), which met in Cairo and dealt with - among other things - women's rights. The positions of the participants in the conference were polar opposites: the Muslim representatives objected to broadening the rights of women while the representatives of Western countries tried with all of their strength to promote these rights. Hiba Saad a-Din, the editor of "Sawt al-Nisa" ("The Woman's Voice") in the newspaper "al-Shab", the organ of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, brought up an embarrassing question: "Why precisely are the enemies of Islam (meaning the Western, Christian, heretical countries) those who fight for the rights of Muslim women? Shouldn't our sheikhs and the imams defend the rights of our women more than those who want to undermine the Islamic world?
These days, with the anticipated attack on Syria in the background, Arab spokesmen raise similar questions: why is it precisley the Americans, who support Israel and enemies of the Arabs, the ones who are willing to go to war and invest their wealth and their blood to rescue us, the Arabs and the Muslims, from the grip of our bloodthirsty dictators who murder us indiscriminately? On the other hand, there are those who attack the United States for trying to remove Asad from power, because if Asad falls, don't the Americans understand that the al-Qaeda type jihad organizations will take his place and turn life in what remains of Syria into a Hell on Earth? And perhaps the Americans want to turn Syria into Afghanistan or Iraq under the camouflage of concern for Syrian citizens? And what is Israel's role in pushing the Americans to eliminate Syria and the threat that it poses for Israel? What will Syria be like after the fall of Asad? Will it become an American satellite? Or perhaps another territory on which to establish Israeli settlements? One of al-Jazeera's spokesmen said, with a sigh: "May G-d have mercy on the Golan", meaning that the Golan is lost to Syria because now we will be negotiating over the the remainder of Syrian territory after the United States and Israel have occupied it.
The anticipated attack also raises questions that express deep concern about the fate of the helpless Syrian citizens: will an attack on chemical weapons stockpiles create an environmental disaster for everyone who lives nearby, causing many fatalities among them? Will the intelligence agencies of the United States and its supporters really know what the best targets are and what is not a suitable target? And on the other hand, does anyone really think that Asad has left all of his chemical weapons in their usual locations? To anyone who has any sense at all, it is clear that in recent days, since it was publicly declared that the United States may attack Syria, Asad's army has been scattering all of the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that he has, so what and where will the Americans attack? And perhaps Asad has already secreted his chemical weapons into Iraq, to his good friend Nuri al-Malaki, the Shi'ite prime minister of Iraq, just like Saddam secreted his chemical and biological weapons into Syria before the coalition's attack in March 2003?
Will the Asad regime allow the UN inspectors to leave Syria before the attack or will it perhaps it will delay their exit and even use them as human shields to safeguard the chemical weapons stockpiles that remain in Syria?
The words of official Syrian spokesmen are widely quoted again and again in Arabic media saying that if Syria is attacked, Tel Aviv will suffer. Some Arab analysts claim that these words show that "the strongest muscle in an Arab ruler's body is his tongue", meaning that they are all talk, not deeds, and threats to Israel are empty threats. They also quote the words of some Israeli politicians who constantly claim that it is better for Israel to leave the weakened Asad in place, rather than to deal with al-Qaeda on the border, who would not honor any agreement that Asad signed with Israel. Other Arab analysts do not hide their hopes that Asad will indeed attack Tel Aviv, to prove that Israel is not invincible and the Hi tech Israeli bleeding hearts, who place their trust in sophisticated weapons systems, are no better than the "low-tech" Arabs, who, which has determined fighters who are faithful to their Arab motherland and their historic goal to eliminate Israel.
On the other hand, reports are beginning to come in that Asad flew to Iran Tuesday night "for consultation". If these reports are correct and he indeed left Syria, will he return to it before the attack breaks out or will he perhaps choose to manage Syria's defense from afar, from a more secure place? And if his forces discover that he has abandoned them will they continue to fight for him? And what will the Alawites do if and when they discover that their president has fled? Will they declare a state in the an-Nusayriyah Mountains in western Syria, where their motherland is located?
But the greatest indicator of pressure in the Arab world is - just as it is with us - the money market. In recent days the Arab money market has been behaving frenetically, and is characterized by periods of pressure and it is not clear how it will be resolved. And since the main source of the pressure is centered in the Gulf, principally because of the nearby Iranian neighbor to their east, these countries' markets are also clearly in the red. They are unfortunate, but not suffering too badly: the rising price of oil will compensate them for the rising cost of shares...
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.