On the Tenth of February 2018, Syria and Israel engaged in direct conflict, a rare instance since the days of the Yom Kippur War. Israeli allegations of both Hezbollah storing arms in and Iran spying on Israel from Syria led to Israeli launching an Air incursion into Southern Syria. An Israeli F-16 was downed, but Israel still managed to hit 12 sites in the area. This adds to the belief that many spectators, as well as Assad’s own supporters hold, which is that Assad is the only leader in the Arab world who is willing to directly confront Israel, especially with skirmishes like the one we saw a few days ago, as well as Assad’s Arab Nationalist propaganda reminiscent of the times when Gamal Abdul Nasser was the most popular leader in the region. However, and don’t think I’m crazy for saying this, Israel is the main factor that has allowed the Assad family to hold on to power in Syria for the last half-century.
The Assad family comes from the Alawite religious sect that despite making up a little more than 10% of Syria’s population, hold almost all of the power in the Syrian Government and military. Although they identify as a sect within Shia Islam, most Muslims believe their faith to be heretical and not a part of the vast Ummah of Islam. These two factors make the minority, and to some extent the Assad family detested by most of the population in the country, which is almost 3/4ths Sunni. So they could never consolidate power through religious means (for this reason actively suppressing non-secular ideals in the country) and couldn’t relate to the majority of the population. Thus, hardcore Arab Nationalism had to be used by Hafez al Assad, Bashar’s dictatorial father and predecessor, as the main ideology of his regime. And with said ideology there is a universal enemy, the State of Israel. Now, the Assad regime had a legitimate reason to be in power. This was both a force of motivation and distraction for the Syrian People. They all had a common enemy, but the constant threat of Israel being hurled in their face made Syrians sideline their discontent with the regime, opting to focus their attention on the Zionist Entity instead.
Anti-Israel poster handed out to Syrian soldiers, likely from 1960s or 70s
The widespread hate for Israel and the Syrian government supposedly making them Public Enemy #1 was also extremely useful in curbing opposition to his regime, both from inside and out. In 1970, in an effort to prove his distaste for Israel, as well as win the support of the PLO, Hafez al Assad attempted to invade Jordan, who, in turn were attempting to suppress the PLO’s activities in their country. Rather than directly confront Israel, he decided to go after Jordan instead, sending a large invasion force, which was quickly battered by the Jordanians in a matter of days. Even years after the incident, Assad constantly accused the Jordanians of being Israeli collaborators, a charge the Jordanians laughed off. Fast forward to a 12 years later, in 1982, the Syrian Army decided to attack Hama, a Sunni city and a hotbed of opposition to the Syrian Government to this day. Islamist insurgents who have been operating in Northern Syria had been attacking the government since 1976, but at this point were no longer provoking the government. These uprisings occurred due to people in these cities upset at high prices, corruption and lack of representation in government. Hafez sent 30,000 of his troops, which resulted in fewer than 2,000 armed locals fighting them. Despite the easy victory for the numerically superior and better equipped Syrian Army, they decided to massacre the city. There isn’t a clear number regarding the civilian casualties, but estimates range from 2,000 to 40,000. This wasn’t the only massacre of this kind, and during the aforementioned period thousands more were killed in Aleppo, Hama and the infamous Tadmor prison in Palmyra. Hafez did not deny the actions, instead citing the main reason to be the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, who were the target of the attacks, were supposedly colluding with Syria’s enemies, mentioning Israel numerous times.
Compilation of photos showing the aftermath of the Hama massacre of 1982
This way, the regime have even been sort of an obstacle to the Palestinian Resistance. When Yasser Arafat attempted to distance himself from Hafez al Assad at the beginning of the Lebanon war, the Syrian Army bombed and massacred Palestinian refugee camps. An example can be seen in the infamous Siege of Tel El Zaatar, where anywhere from 1500 to 3000 Palestinians were killed by the Syrians and Maronite militias they allied themselves with. Do keep in mind that Tel el Zaatar was a Palestinian refugee camp. This goes to show how important of a propaganda tool the Palestinian cause was to Assad SR; that he would be willing to kill thousands of his own allies in order to keep said propaganda tool. Furthermore, this is more sufficient evidence that Assad was reliant on the Palestinian cause to legitimize his regime.
It must also be noted that in the 2000’s, the Assad government was very close to making peace with Israel. Now, through the strong propaganda machine and the killings and torture of thousands of political opponents, the Assad clan had consolidated their power enough that they didn’t need a reason to legitimize their brutal rule. At this point, most Syrians had lived their whole lives under the reign of the Assads, so there was no need for Bashar to justify his rule. Now, his government could throw the Palestinian card out the window. But just when peace was about to be made, the Arab spring happened, Syrians took to the streets and once again Palestinian flags were being flown at government events, military parades, Bashar’s speeches and even in propaganda music videos. Here we see that the more pressure the Assad government is under and the more disdain the people show for it, the more support for Palestine comes out.
Numerous Palestinian flags are seen waving during a speech by Bashar al Assad on the 11th of January 2012.
The worst part of all of this is that the Syrian government is of no real assistance to the Palestinians whatsoever. Although there is a sizeable population of Palestinians living in Syria (around 3% of the total population), they are not given citizenship,which effectively makes them stateless, with the inability to travel abroad. In addition to this, they do not have the right to vote in any elections, and are only allowed to purchase one home and no arable land. The Palestinian militias in Syria do not fight Israel and are used by the Assad government as soldiers for their government, fighting rebels on Assad’s command, which has caused many Palestinians to defect. One Palestinian commander stated “I felt we had become soldiers for the Assad regime, not guards of the [refugee] camps, so I decided to defect”. Hundreds have died in the Yarmouk Camp outside Damascus, which houses the largest Palestinian community in the country, due to Syrian Army shelling. These “Fedayeen” sponsored by the Assad government are regarded as phony by all legitimate Palestinian organizations and their leaders have been denounced and excommunicated by the Palestinian Resistance.
In conclusion, the existence of the Zionist Entity is very beneficial for the Assad regime to the point where it is reliant on it to receive any legitimacy from the Syrian people and its neighbours. The threat of Israel has been used as the biggest propaganda advantage to Hafez Assad and he used it to denounce his opposition and commit human rights abuses. Now, with the civil war wreaking havoc in his country, his son Bashar is following in his father’s footsteps. Whether the Syrian government has ever secretly allied itself with the state they claim to hate so much is a question for another day, but one thing is for certain; the Syrian government uses a cause of anti-oppression to oppress its own people.
Bashar Al Assad is dependent on Israel for his regimes survival, but not for the reason you think. was originally published in mrkailani.com on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.