If I were an Assad

From the hard disk:
An article in Haaretz Magazine, April 19, 1996

How I conducted Syrian policy and gave ideas to Huntington?

Salman Masalha

If I were an Assad

Possibly some kind of imposed solution will put an end to the election fray now making headlines in Lebanon. However, when the warriors of the Apache tribe return to their bases, after the grapes* are harvested, they will be leaving a lot of wrath behind. This wrath can be suppressed for a while but it and the rest of the cards in the game remain in Syria’s hands – that is to say, in my hands.

Will I hurry to sign a peace agreement with Israel? I know that at this time the power is in the hands of the Western world – the United States and Europe. I know that in the global conflict in this region there is no chance the Western world will be on the side of the Arab-Muslim world against Israel. This is because in Western eyes Israel is the site of Christianity’s cultural roots. Ultimately the war is a culture war.

I ask myself: Assad, should getting the Golan back divert me from the path of achieving the goals of the Arab nations, the way I and the Ba’ath Party believe in them? No. The Golan Heights are important but the goals of the Arab world – which I and the Ba’ath Party carry on our shoulders – are even more important.

Since ancient times the Arab world has been split into a number of blocs that have always competed with one another for hegemony: the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa. The Arabian Peninsula and North Africa are on the margins of the Arab national myths, and there they will remain. Iraq has been paralyzed since the Gulf War. All the Egyptians like to do is talk. We are all that remains. Syria is destined to take over the reins in the conflict between Arab nationalism and the West, of which Israel is the spearhead.

In this conflict I have already chalked up a considerable number of successes. Lebanon is under my protection and this has been given a seal of approval. The West, including Israel, is accepting this as a fact. I do not go to visit “the president of Lebanon” in Beirut. He comes to Damascus to consult with me on every matter concerning Lebanon. There is no Syrian embassy in Beirut because Syria and Lebanon are one and the same.

Palestine, too, is a province of Greater Syria. I, Assad, leader of the Ba’ath Party, the standard-bearer of Arab nationalism, cannot send an ambassador to Tel Aviv. The Lebanese and the rest of the Arabs would say: Now Syria is appointing an ambassador to the Zionist entity but he is not appointing an ambassador to Lebanon, which is a member of the Arab League.

Israel and Yasser Arafat are amusing themselves with agreements they have signed. But I know they don’t stand a chance. The agreement Arafat has made with Israel is an unfunny joke. Arafat has become the head of the Palestinian council of mayors, a flying mukhtar. For every step he and the members of his ridiculous council take, permission from Israel is needed. And therefore, an even fiercer intifada will happen in the future.

And when that happens, will the regime in Jordan, when the majority of the inhabitants are Palestinian, still stand? I doubt it. And when there is an earthquake in Jordan, whom will they ask to restore order in that province of Syria? A rhetorical question. Jordan will follow in Lebanon’s footsteps, with Arab agreement and Western silence. This is because the West, including Israel, will have to choose between two alternatives: Either Jordan will be controlled by the fundamentalists or it will be controlled by a secularist like myself who knows how to deal properly with Islamic fanatics.

Then, at that stage, I will be willing to accept the Golan Heights, without giving up a single centimeter, and in exchange of for that you will get peace, i.e. a quiet border and nothing more. Where is it written that peace means open borders and an exchange of ambassadors? Peace is a sulha, a dispute resolution between tribes, and it doesn’t mean you need to marry a girl from the rival tribe.

If the West does not accept my conditions and does not take into account the interests of the great Arab nation (and of Islam, if I so decide), I can make a lot of trouble for it. Many options are open to me. I can join up with Iran, I can also join up with Iraq, I can make Jordan implode. Above all: I can go back to making Israel’s life a misery in Lebanon. I am holding a lot of cards and I am not rushing anywhere. I have all the time in the world.

*The Grapes of Wrath was a military operation carried out by the Israel Defense Forces in southern Lebanon from April 11 to April 27, 1996, after Hezbollah Katyusha fire on Israel.
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