The last horror took place on Friday, in the village of Dara’a, the first site of demonstrations against the Assad regime. Air force planes suddenly flew overhead and bombed homes. Twenty-seven people were killed, including seven children. Dozens were seriously injured. This time, as opposed to the horrifying massacre of children in the villages of Houla and Kubeir, Assad can’t blame the “armed terrorists who infiltrated Syria in order to destabilize the regime.”
This isn’t Al-Qaeda, nor is it the armed wing of the Syrian opposition. They don’t have planes and pilots and bombs. This is the Syrian regime, which is homing in on targets and killing in cold blood. In Dara’a on Friday, they arrested all of the city’s doctors, in advance of the bombing. Video clips exposed the regime’s thugs nabbing men and trampling hysterical women. Whoever tried to rescue bodies was killed from rooftops by the regime’s snipers.
Bashar al-Assad’s hands are stained with the blood of 15,000 people, including thousands of miserable children under the age of 10. Thousands are still missing. There are no words harsh enough to describe the crimes that are committed in Syria. But as things stand now, it seems we haven’t yet reached the climax in the tragedy of a nation getting slaughtered at the hands of its leader. Even United Nations inspectors have lost patience. When they tried to investigate what happened in the village of Al-Kubeir, they were fired upon from a checkpoint manned by Syrian Army soldiers; when they managed to reach the site of the massacre, they reported the horrible smell of burning bodies and dismembered body parts scattered around homes.
It’s not easy to get rid of Assad. For now, there’s no way to storm his palace and assassinate him, or to seize him and throw him out of Syria. Even the elegant plan to adopt the Yemenite model — to remove Assad and transfer power to one of his deputies — won’t work in Syria’s case. The heads of the Alawite minority, who think exactly what the rest of the world thinks of Assad, aren’t dying to get rid of the perks of their position at the top: this is the minority that is likely to lose its wealth, power and key positions in the security forces, all at once. Their judgment day weapon, don’t forget, is hidden in the arms depots of chemical and biological warfare. It is no problem to launch planes, Saddam Hussein-style, or to fire upon targets with impunity.
There is no one to whom to transfer power. The external opposition is fragmented, Al-Qaeda has penetrated the organizations, it’s not clear who opposes Assad and who is a terrorist sent to sabotage. It slowly appears that Syria has sunk into civil war. From Assad’s perspective, may they run away to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and cross the border into Iraq. He doesn’t care about being left alone with those who eat out of his hands, largely just to survive. For this he relies on Quds force, the commando unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. No one, certainly not Obama on the eve of US elections, is going to turn Syria into a battleground against Iran.
There’s no arguing that Assad has finished his career. There’s no arguing that he needs to be gotten rid of, destroyed. But the judgment day scenarios spell out horrors that will double and triple the numbers of victims. The heads of the army are liable to arm the Kurds with unconventional weapons and send them to settle accounts with Turkey. They will distribute weapons to Palestinian refugees (some 300,000 of them) and send them by force into Jordan, Lebanon and maybe in our direction. Did we say civil war? Remember the smell of burning bodies, the white sneakers, the knives, and murder in the eyes of the regime’s thugs? If Assad falls, they’re right behind him.
The ball is rolling toward Russia’s court. Vladimir Putin knows what Obama wants; Putin knows the lengths to which Obama can go against Assad. Ahead of their meeting next week, Putin threw him some bait: he is initiating an international summit that will convene immediately, with all of the relevant sides: the regime in Damascus and its opposition, all of the refugee-receiving countries bordering Syria, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as a result of their funding, the UN, the EU. And who isn’t invited? The Americans.
The big question is, does Putin want to see a new Syria, and does he even have the power to lead efforts for change?