Bashar Assad is misinterpreting the American messages, just as Saddam Hussein had in July 1990. Dictators apparently have a hard time identifying sources of force and weakness in democracies. After meeting US Ambassador to Baghdad April Glaspie, Saddam concluded at the time that the US would not intervene if he invaded Kuwait, so he was shocked when America waged war against him. Years later Saddam admitted during his interrogation that he would not have invaded Kuwait had he known the US would oppose it.
Assad has also misinterpreted some of the US's messages. When he saw that Washington was not intervening after more than 100,000 people died in the Syrian civil war and after he used chemical weapons twice, and when he saw that the US was not intervening in Egypt, where the military regime killed some 1,500 civilians, Assad assumed he had a green light to expand the use of chemical weapons. From the perspective of the regime in Damascus and the Alawite minority, it is a matter of life and death, so all means are legitimate, and will remain so in the future. If they do not annihilate their enemies, they will be annihilated themselves.
Bashar Assad was very surprised when the Americans and the West turned the most recent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army into a "smoking gun." The reason was visibility. The previous chemical attacks were not seen in the West, but numerous images from the recent attack were uploaded to the Internet.
However, Bashar Assad does not view himself as the Syrian version of Saddam Hussein. What's more, in the first Gulf War President Bush (the father) decided to keep Hussein in power. In addition, the Gulf War included a massive US ground operation, while there are no such plans for the campaign against Syria. The regime in Damascus assumes it will be hit, but not too hard, and it can live with that. Obviously, Syria would rather avoid this ballistic-aerial attack, and this is why it is threatening everyone, including the strong State of Israel. But any attack will be a measured one. The Syrian regime has been through far worse over the past two and a half years.
There is another difference between the first Gulf War and the current crisis: Back then, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was only one superpower in the world, while today Russian and China are also strong superpowers, and they both support Assad. This situation, in which there are a number of superpowers, is preventing the international community from "going wild" in Syria.
Will Syria follow through on its threat to strike Israel in case it is attacked by the Americans? It would not benefit Assad to drag Israel into the military campaign against him, because this will obviously weaken him. Israel will attack, forcefully, and he is interested in ending the conflict with the US as quickly as possible - not expand it. But in the Middle East, which is becoming more dangerous by the day, logic is not the only factor at play. Vengeance, hatred, score settling, lost pride and many dark emotions – all these are an inseparable part of the conflict.
- Receive Ynetnews updates
directly to your desktop