The Arab television stations, as usual, angrily claim that the West is taking no action to end the slaughter in Syria, and at the same time they represent the Arab leaders as deep in diplomatic negotiations to end the war -- while neatly hiding the mistakes, wrong moves and general inability to have the slightest effect on the horrors playing out.
As Muslims massacre each other in the Arab Spring countries, Sunni Islam finds itself in the incongruous position of expecting to be rescued by the Crusader West -- the United States and the European countries these Islamists say they wish to Islamize by the sword, and to which they occasionally send terrorists to murder civilians.
According to Sunni Islamic extremist thinking, the West has the responsibility to do the dirty work of purging Syria, Iran and Lebanon of their Shi'ite terrorism. In the meantime, jihad fighters from all over the world land in crumbling Syria daily to kill the Alawites, Druze and Christians who are considered Assad collaborators. These jihadists shout "Allahhu Akbar" ["Allah is Greater" – than whom is implied] as they commit the same atrocities inflicted by the regime they are trying to overthrow. It is no wonder the world is squeamish about giving them material support. Faced with both the Western world's hesitation to arm them and its concern over what will happen if and when they take over Syria, the jihadists there have started comparing themselves with the infidel leaders of the militant South American Communist movements in Cuba, Bolivia and Chile – and, in the height of incongruity, even with atheists.
Meanwhile, in the best tradition of Arab and Islamic failure, the Arab media continue churning out diatribes against the Zionist plots in Palestine to deflect attention from what is happening in Syria. They sling mud at each other and sit on the fence while untold amounts of blood are spilled. On one side, those who identify with the Syrian regime boast that it supports Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations against Israel; and claim that the opposition to the regime, the Free Syrian Army, is joined at the hip to Israel and doing its best to destroy Syria. Not only to destroy Syria, but remove it from the resistance camp, which not only bravely supports the Palestinians, but fights against the dictates of American hegemony and that of its ally, and the occupier of the Golan Heights, Israel,.
The supporters of the Assad regime also accuse the rebels of having neutralized Syria's air defense system and even of marking targets for the Israeli Air Force. The supporters of the regime claim that the rebels are just a riffraff gang of opportunistic Islamic terrorists with no common denominator who, attracted by the smell, came to feast on Syrian carrion. They also claim that the Free Syrian Army does not genuinely represent the will of the people, but merely that of the Islamist terrorist organizations, while it is actually Hezbollah that protects the holy sites of the Shi'ites in Syria, such as the grave of Muhammad's (s.a.a.s.) daughter, Zeinab.
On the other side, those who identify with the Syrian opposition claim that Assad's regime represents only the Alawites. Members of the opposition say the regime is bloodthirsty and illegitimate -- especially after slaughtering its own people, including the Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp -- and that it has to be overthrown. They also claim that the regime is supported by Shi'ite terrorists from Iran and by Hezbollah in Lebanon, a great many of whom die helping the regime; that the regime is made up mass-murderers of Syrian civilians, who rape Syrian women and children and carry out a host of other horrors, including the use of poison gas.
Their strongest claim, however, is that the Syrian regime is a cat's paw for Israel – that the regime allowed the Zionists to drop bombs on Syrian territory; that it collaborated with the assassination of Imad Mughnieh (a high-ranking Hezbollah commander); that it abandoned the Golan Heights; that Syria has thus become a hothouse for anti-Israel hatred, and as always, that Israel is responsible for all errors and faults of the Middle East, including turning Syria into the graveyard of the Arab Spring.
Former Israeli Knesset member A'zmi Bishara, who fled from Israel when he was suspected of spying for Shi'ite Hezbollah, recently told Qatar TV that the war in Syria had claimed 100,000 lives, that 400,000 Syrians had been wounded, that 500,000 buildings had been destroyed, and that there are more than a million refugees. The dimensions of the humanitarian catastrophe are so great they have turned the story of the Palestinian refugees (a hereditary title passed down for three generations, and worth less than the paper it is written on) into a saga of little importance which should be consigned to the pages of history. As far as Bishara is concerned, the time has come to focus only on helping the real refugees, the Syrians.
Subversive activities and Iranian terrorism are prominent in an Iranian-based axis: they pass through Maliki's attack-loaded Shi'ite Iraq, carpet Syria with the dead, and continue on into Hezbollah's Lebanon. Every day, Iranian terrorist cells are uncovered in the Persian Gulf states, in Bahrain, in Sudan, in Saudi Arabia and even in Egypt, where Islamic terrorists abducted Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, demonstrating the weakness of the regime there.
At this point the terrorist organization Hamas has pretty much cut its ties to Iran, but unfortunately, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which suggest possible peace agreements with Israel within the framework of the Arab League initiative, continue using front organizations to finance Hamas, while successfully hiding their activities from the Americans. Their money and support keep the Palestinian blood feud against Israel alive; and worse, it remains alive between Hamas and Fatah, so that the Gulf States make it possible for the Zionists in Israel to develop their state undisturbed while we kill each other.
Rising from the religious and ethnic bloodshed in Syria are the outlines of the little states into which the country will eventually be divided: Kurdish, Sunni and Alawite, with more or less protected enclaves of Christians and Druze. Regardless of how the dice fall, there is no way Assad can remain ruler of the Syrian people, even if he manages, by means of slaughter and oppression, to hold his throne for a time.
The Russians understand that Assad's fate has been sealed and that soon Russia may not have a foothold in Syria. It is not difficult to understand why. The the Syrian people -- most of whom are Sunni, and harbor a deep hatred for Russia., which has been working against them, and helping Assad slaughter their women and children -- will not allow it. However, the need to preserve the market for their arms, a warm water port and their Middle Eastern outpost, leaves the Russians no choice but to aid the regime. Born into Communism they do not believe in democracy, and they will do nothing to help Assad's downfall, regardless of how tempting it might be.
According to some commentators on the Middle East, the bombings in Syria attributed to Israel, which showed the West that Iran could also be struck, revealed that Russian weapons were an empty threat -- a blow to the Russian reputation. The attacks therefore forced the Russians to show their Syrian (and other) allies that they actually had better deterrent capabilities. So they gave the Syrians more modern weapons, quickening the pace of the Cold War. When Putin refused to accede to Netanyahu's request not to supply the collapsing Syrian regime with advanced weapons, he was trying to signal the West that foreign intervention in Syria, and needless to say in Iran, should be impossible. Thus, for its own self defense, Israel found itself in the middle of a battle between world powers with hesitant American backup. It is out of the question for Russia to allow a pro-American regime hostile to itself to rise in Syria; anyone who thinks otherwise is living in a dream world.
As for Iran, the situation in Syria shows that the Iranian-Shi'ite axis is crumbling, and how deeply the Syrian populace detest Iran. The violent, bloody, mass-casualty confrontations between Shi'ites and Sunnis in the Iranian axis countries, Iraq and Syria and Lebanon, are escalating. Iran's tenacious foothold in the Middle East is weakening, as is the fraud it attempts to perpetrate on the Gulf States: by strengthening its Syrian-Hizbolah-Iraq axis, it aimed to draw attention away from its true goal, the acquisition of a nuclear bomb, by lulling them into a false sense of security. In the meantime, Iran profits from having the limelight concentrated on Syria while it cheerfully develops its nuclear bomb and sends its mercenaries and weapons to Hezbollah and Assad. However, when Iran finishes arming itself, we will witness a dramatic change in the map of the Middle East, with the addition of a dangerous, murderous power that will undermine, subvert and change the orientation of the familiar global power group of the United States, Europe, Russia and China.
So far, the situation in Syria has shown that as a result of American hesitation the old Cold War between Russia and the West is now asymmetric. This result can also be seen from the U.S. attitude toward Iran: the Russians openly support the tottering Syrian regime even though, along with Iraq and Hezbollah, it is part of the Iranian axis. Russia has defiantly sent S300 surface-to-air missiles and other deadly weapons to the Syrian regime to deter the West and prevent it from involvement in Syria and Lebanon, both aerial and naval, and thus to deter it from attacking Iran. Israel, for the Russians, is not part of the equation; Russian strength and deterrence have been acquired in the face of the perceived weakening of American resolve.
The American-NATO-Turkish-Arab axis, on the other had, has been providing the Syrian opposition with funds, training, material support and non-combatant military equipment, but has not intervened or armed it. The West faces a dilemma: the opposition is composed, in great part, of extremist Islamic elements affiliated with Al-Qaeda, such as Ahrar al-Sham and the Al-Nusra Front. They are not perceived as preferable to Assad, so on the surface, the Russian and American positions on the survival of the Assad regime are close. As in the saying, "Better the devil you know than devil you don't know," the Americans have learned from experience that Islamists who received American arms later turned on their benefactors and used them against American soldiers. Thus the upcoming conference in Geneva and the formulation of its preconditions will be complex for both Americans and Russians.
As Arabs we have to understand that just as Iranian nuclear power will not be turned only against Israel, so Russian arms will not be turned only against Israel or the Syrian people and rebels, but against the entire Arab world. As Arabs we have to decide if we want, of our own free will, to submit to the new Iranian master or to take the initiative and – with American support -- strike the head of the Iranian serpent. In the current situation, the Russians will not interfere and the entire Middle East will benefit. We struck the Persians under the heritage of the prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.s.), and we can do it again today.
Ali Salim is a scholar based in the Middle East.