Sunday, 5 June 2011

Israel's gift to Assad

Since the Arab Spring reached Syria in March, the security forces of dictator Bashar Al-Assad have killed some 1200 people. Those attending marches, rallies and funerals have been ruthlessly gunned down by snipers, tanks and infantry in a grim throwback to the days of Bashar's father Hafez - who once once slaughtered as many as 80 000 residents in the city of Hama during a single crackdown.

Undeterred by the brutality, brave Syrian citizens are continuing to try and bring about the downfall of the regime, aided somewhat by growing international pressure. Yet in the midst of such internal and external opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu's Israeli administration has stepped in and unwittingly handed Assad a timely political gift. By killing some twenty Syrian and Palestinian protesters who were marking "Naksa Day" (the Day of Defeat) in the occupied Golan heights, Israel has provided the Syrian dictator with an opportunity to detract regional and international attention from his own crackdown whilst potentially endearing himself to Syria's half-million Palestinian population as well as the vast majority of Syrian citizens who sympathise with the Palestinian struggle.

Like many Arab rulers (including the thugs in control of Gaza) Assad has long used the spectre of Israel -especially the occupation of the Golan Heights- to channel internal hostility away from his own violent and corrupt rule. By needlessly gunning down civilians at the time when opposition to Assad is at its highest point for years, the Israeli political and military elite have given credibility and substance to such propaganda. The frankly inane and unacceptable nature of the incident was underscored by the fact that those killed appeared to be civilians posing no threat. Despite Israeli rhetoric about an "angry mob" and a weak US defence based Israeli's right to defend itself video evidence shows unarmed demonstrators who though approaching the border fence are no match for the well-equipped Israeli troops on the other side. Unconfirmed reports suggest that one of those killed was just twelve years old.

Tonight the Netanyahu administration claims that reports of the incident in Syrian state media are "an attempt to divert international attention from the bloodbath" being caused by Assad's crackdown; this is undoubtedly true but misses the point that it was the Israeli army who provided the very chance and the content for such a diversion. Like on so many other occasions, a willingness to resort to uncessary violence has caused Israel to become its own worst enemy.

Dissent against Assad's rule on the streets of Syria will doubtelessly continue and in all likelihood will grow further still. After all - resistance against the dictator and opposition to Israeli state violence are by no means mutually exclusive. However, today's bloodbath will inevbitabley be spun and worked up by the regime in order to take off the heat both internationally and domestically - at least for the coming days. The potential for it to divide or weaken the opposition movement or strengthen Assad to any extent at all - will be harmful to the both Syrian people and ultimatley to Israel as well.

Netenyahu's recent failure to deal with the issue of settlements and refusal to acknowledge the 1967 borders of Israel are dangerous hardline positions that can only serve his region and state badly. Today's killings - a crime in themselves - take this sorry state of affairs further still, by damaging the chances of democratic reform on Israel's border. Those responsible must be held accountable not only for each individual death...but for the wider consequences.

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