Blog 259 June 29, 2015
Keeping up with the Middle East requires one to pay constant attention because change never stops. For example, Egypt seems to be softening in its relationship with the Gaza strip. For the first time, cement and building materials have been allowed to go through. The behind the scenes sources report that Hamas has begun quiet negotiations with Israel through an intermediary to attempt to ease the tight restrictions on the territory. The truth is that Hamas is in bad shape financial. Matters are not good with the terrorist organization so they may be open to a few genuine changes. We will see.
Matters are changing in Syria big time. The Assad regime had to absorb a number of serious losses. They now control less that half of what was formerly Syria.
A number of years ago, I traveled across Syria and stayed in Damascus. The ancient city with the street called Straight still runs like an arrow from one end to the other. At the far end, one can descend steps and come to the room where by tradition blind Saul was healed and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Of course, the entire country is Muslim and what was once a great church in the center of old Damascus is now a mosque.
My most memorable experience was the constant viewing of the ubiquitous pictures of Hafez Assad (already dead) and his son Bashar ( the then ruler) Everywhere from Taxis to bathrooms, there were the portraits of the two men placed side by side. If you hadn’t picked up the fact that you were in a dictatorship before you arrived, you certainly would soon know! The heritage that Hafez left to Bashar is now in shambles and probably can never be put back together. We have to give Bashar Assad credit for staying in power for 15 years, He’s been at the top longer than Churchill, Ben-Guriom, or Charles de Gaulle, but the question is how much longer can he hang on. Unfortunately, both the United States and Europe have refused to recognize the Syrian situation for what it is. A minority (the Alawites) have maintained a brutal occupation over a majority that is ten times their size (the rests of Syria). All of this was kept in place by generals who supported Hafez Assad when he seized control and began a 30-year rule. When he died, Bashar Assad promised change. The start of the current civil war was actually a clash of different tribes as well as an internal resistance to any significant change. The failure of Bashar Assad to deal with issues like a growing water problem, a struggling labor market, and a defunct economy led to the current civil war and crisis.
The result is that at least 200,000 Syrian civilians have been killed to date along with 10,000 children. Half of the nation has been displaced. Assad is now completely dependent on Iran and Hezbollah for assistance. If Assad rejected an Iranian demand and they pulled back, he would be gone.
Can the Assad regime survive? The best calculation is probably only as long as Iran props them up. Assad has had plenty of losses and survived. The end is not in sight but the deterioration continues.
A sad, sad mess. Anybody for change?