Countdown to Armageddon!

The arguments I made in this article on the BitterLemons-International news service, have been bolstered by the speech recently delivered by our national imbecile. Moreover, the bellicose tones of Bashar’s speech have themselves been bolstered and taken to their logical conclusion by an editorial in the official newspaper, al-Thawrah, that appeared on the following day. The editorial issued a very straightforward threat against Israel. Indeed, the threat/call for launching a Hezbollah-style campaign in the Golan was indeed the main theme.

So, are the Assads seriously contemplating such an option? Or have they inadvertently helped foster an environment that is amiable, interested, ready and desperately dying to push the envelope in this matter for reasons of national pride?

Time will tell, and we may not have to wait for long.


Countdown to Armageddon
Ammar Abdulhamid

The rise of President Bashar Assad to power in Syria in 2000, which coincided with the collapse of the peace process and the rise of Ariel Sharon in Israel, signaled a gradual return to policies of confrontation with the international community and with Israel.

The reasons for this are numerous and are not all related to the internal makeup of the Syrian regime. Nevertheless, that issue does figure highly in this regard and should not be dismissed, lest this impede judgment regarding the current Syrian role in the region. Indeed, the minoritarian character of the Syrian regime and its consolidation around the private interests of one particular family, the Assad-Makhlouf clan, have served from the very beginning to undercut the potential for serious reform in the country.

The insistence on keeping things in the family and transferring power from father to son, all consideration of republican norms notwithstanding, has served to establish severe limits on the ability of the new president. But then, ever since his (s)election, Bashar has not missed an opportunity to show that he is a true believer in the system and in the mandate and mission assigned to him.

This is why he turned against all dissidents and reformers in early 2001, wholeheartedly embraced the Aqsa Intifada, allowed people like Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to roam freely in Syria and transformed the relationship with Hizballah from that of master-client to a strategic alliance. Moreover, Bashar never turned his back on the possibility of getting himself embroiled in regional mayhem and controversy. As was the case with his father, the legitimacy that could not be received from internal successes and reforms now needed to be derived from external sources, namely from a continuing focus of energies and attention on the Arab-Israel conflict.

This explains why the president went overboard in his criticism of the US-led invasion of Iraq and lent so much support to the Iraqi “resistance”, inviting other Arab states to follow his lead. This also explains his continuing willingness to support radical Palestinian groups and, of course, Hizballah. Indeed, the more pressures the new president and the ruling family have perceived, the more radical their stands and policies have become. The point of no return, if there ever was one, came with the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri, a development that put the entire ruling family in the line of suspects.

After that, there was no end to how radical the Assad regime was willing to become. It was now facing an existential threat par excellence. The rise of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and his subsequent visit to Syria on January 19 gave both regimes the opportunity to consolidate their alliance and to extend it to formally include Hizballah and the radical wing of Hamas. A decision seems to have been made to escalate matters further in Gaza and the Shebaa Farms in the hope of diverting international attention from these regimes and bringing about an acceptance of the status quo they represented, even as they consolidated their grip on power.

While current developments seem more than what these regimes and parties bargained for, they are also heaven-sent, hence their increased vociferousness, belligerence and confidence.

Indeed, as the recent declaration made by the Syrian foreign minister during his brief visit to Lebanon indicates, the prospect of a wider regional war is something these regimes actually welcome. For the strong showing that Hizballah has made, the destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure notwithstanding, is encouragement enough for these regimes, with their minds and hearts still stuck in the 1980s, to revive the old dream of defeating Israel militarily through involvement in a war of attrition and thus achieving military glory that will boost their credentials both at home and abroad. With the US caught in the Iraqi quagmire and its power seemingly neutralized as a result, this prospect might appear more and more tempting with each passing day.

In fact, the Assads seem to be actively preparing for this eventuality. They have already called up large reserve cohorts that are busy digging trenches all around the country, and they are currently preparing public opinion for this possibility and cultivating their support thereof. Thus, calls to reopen the Golan front are routinely reiterated during the Friday sermons, and communist and nationalist groups have recently joined the chorus.

So, even if the US and Israel seem uninterested in bringing about such a conflagration, their desires, wishes and interests are not the only factors that matter here. There is indeed another side involved, a full fledged alliance in fact, whose leaders seem to think that war, regardless of its potentially high cost in human and material terms, will serve their interests. The more troubles Israel has in Lebanon and the US in Iraq, the more convinced these leaders will be of the “wisdom” and necessity of war.– Published 17/8/2006 ©

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian blogger and dissident. He runs the Tharwa Foundation, an independent initiative that focuses on diversity issues in the region, and is a non-resident fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

13 thoughts on “Countdown to Armageddon!

  1. Excellent article Ammar. What do you think can be done to undercut the Assad’s apparent plans for war? Obviously, and as you stated, it is not entirely in the West’s hands, but do you think smart moves by Israel could help undermine this path to disaster?

  2. The Baathist regime and other of similar tendencies survive on strife and chaos. It is because all they know how to do is destroy nations and line their pockets in the process.I hope you are wrong about the Golan-Hizbullah bit. Are they really that stupid or that suicidal or is this just for internal public consumption? And what’s up with digging trenches? it is so WWI. They are just trying to keep the idle hands of the army busy?I think all this talk is the usual empty hot air typical of this regime. What is different today is that with the trigger happy US and Israeli governments, it doesn’t take more than “hot air” to trigger a confrontation.So Ammar, I think I just answered my own question. This regime IS that stupid.

  3. Your comments plus if you read the news randomly, you read that:1. Iran has just started Military maneuvers due to last “indefinitely” to test its military skills because of the situation in the Middle East2. Syria has apparently started to remove mines from their side of the border on the Golan, and has massed some tanks3. Syria has started since last June to enroll volunteer to form a Jihadist brigade to “liberate the Golan”4. Hezbollah may be bringing into South Lebanon, under the guise of refugees returning home, a few thousands of fighters (Iranian – Syrian or Palestinian)5. The 22nd of August is the date that Ahmadinejad said he would give his reply to the UN resolution on his Nuclear Program6. The 22nd of August corresponds in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to “the farthest mosque,” usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1).What do you make of all this? Would Iran strike Israel (using Hezb or Syria as proxy) on that day with an Atomic weapon to:• Show the world that they are member of the Nuclear Club• That they have indeed annihilated Israel as they have promised• Take the leadership of the Muslim world and embark on a Djihad against the west?Guys, let me know your views / comments

  4. Batal Agha,I think the combination of hallucinogens and conspiracy theories don’t mix well with you.

  5. The looming disaster I predict will most likely come as a result of too many people making too many idiotic statements and moves, rather than as a result of any kind of serious planning and foresight. Yaman, it might just too late for any smart moves by anyone at this stage. Be that as it may, your suggestions are as smart as can be. I doubt the Assads could reciprocate such gestures though, I doubt that they will be allowed, even if they wanted to, by their Mullah allies. The Assads have become hostages now to the wills and whims and interests of the Mullahs. The old game of playing one side against the other to maximize your benefits, or decrease your losses, requires a smart central decision-making process and a central decision-making figure, none of which exist today.

  6. As for Iran’s willingness to nuke Israel… would a seemingly-ideologically driven government condone the destruction of the “Holy Land”? Using an atomic bomb on Israel would pretty much make Israel and the Palestinian territories uninhabitable for years…

  7. Ammar,You certainly hit the point sometimes when analyzing Syrian regime. However, despise of the Syrian regime is leading you to a very unprofessional miss judgment of their ally the Iranians. Obviously you have never been to Iran or never been interested in reading about the Iranian regime. No one blames you for that; it is out of your area of interest. However, be careful in making false judgment; you refer to them as Mullah with a tone that suggests: retarded, and put them into the same category of you imbecile.It is not the time here to explain how entirely and fundamentally the Iranian regime defers from the Syrian one, or talk about the difference in institutional and nation-building achievements of both regimes. Iran is not a one-man or one-family regime as it is the case in Syria. Iran also is an established nation, unlike Syria who cannot make its mind whether it is Arabic or Islamic or Syrian. The sense of nationalism in Iran is, at-best, four hundred years ahead of the same in Syria, where 99 per cent of the population still refuse the acceptance of modern-days Syria as a nation and still look back to some non-existing forms of unity, way beyond the present borders south and north.The above point is extremely important in forming the national policy of a country. Assads and most prominent Syrian political figures inside and outside the regimes (what is called opposition), have absolutely no concern about the risks that their policies might bring to the existence of Syria. That is because Syria itself is a mere temporary entity serving greater purpose such as “staying in power” or “merging with others to form a greater Islamic Regime” (refer to the newest Ikhwan Muslimeen Agenda published in their website about their view on Syria’s entity as a nation), or take parts of it to where they supposedly belonged (refer to most of the Kurdish parties statements in their website about futuristic visions, read the Kurdish version).Iranian regime on the other hand, and regardless of all the propaganda about Islamic state etc, has a great and established sense of nationalism preservation which would prevent the regime from any action that would jeopardize the existence of their nation or country. Iranian regime has learned much since it was forced to enter a useless war with Iraq. The proof is everywhere; in both Gulf Wars, Iran took the position that allowed it in both cases to emerge-up as the most benificary of these wars, economically and strategically. It has booming relations with Japan, China, Russia, India. It also has stable and strong economical relation with Europe. Iran is a semi-industrialized nation with established economical and strategic plans. Syria cannot manufacture a chewing-gum without importing half of its ingredients and cannot plan its economy for the coming month.The Iranian regime is institutional and knows well how to play the international relation games. Iran knows exactly where it is heading in this nuclear game with the States and Europe. Armageddon and mayhem are not on the list of the Iranian destinations. That is why if Syria was actually sticking by the Mullah’s as you suggest, then it would have been a good thing for Syria! That is because those Mullahs are way much cleverer than the gang of imbeciles in Syria as you name them. If Syria was really a strategic ally of Iran, this alliance would have gotten Syria some achievements. The reality is Syria is no real ally of Iran, the Syrian regime has chosen to use Iran as a card for negotiation that he might throw away anytime without a blink.There is much talk about the Assads being under Iran’s influence. That is utter miss information. Here is some insider information that might raise your eyebrows; The fact is, Syrian regime has worked in the past few years on cutting the wings of every Iranian sympathizer in the regime body or outside, including Khaddam himself (before his break off of the gang), who was pushing for more strategic cooperation with the Iranians. The Iranian embassy’s activity has never been as restricted as it is today. The choice of the ambassadors and the disengagement of some military relations that were much deeper in the past are some of the many signs of the clear cut that the new Syrian regime wanted to make with the Iranians. Most the main influential figures in the Assad family, namely Rami and Maher, thought that Iran was acquiring more influence in Syria than it should.On the media front, the situation is different. We hear of alliances and treaties, but the reality is the relations on the ground have never been colder in fifteen years (in comparison to the past of course).Syrian regime is foolishly using Iran as a bargain card, no more and no less. And for that reason, Iran will probably do the same regarding the Syrian regime. Taking into consideration how weak and isolated Syria is, I would have been happier if Syria was actually a strategic ally of Iran. It would have been a good opportunity for Syrian regime to learn a good lesson of nation-building and international politics games. Unfortunately the Syrian regime is not interested and is choosing to side by no one but itself. A regime that was based-on and cultivated the concept of mistrust can not fathom the idea of strategic alliance. Iran is not taking the area into any Armageddon. The Syrian regime, by insisting on trusting no one but the blood relation between its members (increasing the networks by so many intra-marriages with Damascene families recently) might take Syria into one. But it certainly would not be because he followed the Mullahs, the contrary might be correct. Leave Iran away of your ranting over the gang of imbeciles in Muhajereen’s palace. I assure you there are no imbeciles in the Azadi palace.S.F.E.

  8. I am actually in total agreement with you, Anonymous 1:39 am. I really should put a more refined search bar in this blog, so I can find my earlier post. But I did indeed write on the complexity of the Iranian system of governance and the existence of a more qualified political and technocratic class there, especially when compared with Syria. So, really my use of the term Mullahs is not meant to be as reductionist as you seem to have thought. But thanks for your input indeed. As for loopholes, of course. Eight hundred words will not suffice to cover all grounds.

  9. First of all, interesting blog you have.Second, I have some thing to point out:1. Syrian natonalism is strong. Despite all the efforts of our “generalissimo” and son to destroy it, but it’s there, as strong as ever.2. I agree with S.F.E about Iran as a country and nation. I cannot but respect them and give them as a positive example to be followed: after Islamic Revolution, American and International embargo and Irak war, they have risen from their own ashes and proven themselves as a developed industrialized self-sufficient super-power. All my admiration!3. Funny to see how these apostates are uniting with their own declared enemies ( the Brotherhood) just to stick to power, to suck more blood from the opressed people. Leeches.4. Aren’t you giving them a bit too much credit?

  10. AMMARI think you are right about Assad and the government of Syria. I wonder why Assad does not understand what it can mean for him and his people if he were to become a good neighbor?I have explained to many people in the comments section of Kevin Sites In The Hot Zone, that Canada and the United States have been good neighbors for many many years.Yet I still read, and hear, “death to Israel, Jews, the United States and the infidels”.Maybe we ( us Americans) can avoid another war by setting a good example by not becoming involved in conflicts in other countries. What do you think?Also, I would like to introduce you and your readers to my blog site. I have called my site INSPIRATION and the url is

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