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For Syria, Even the 'Israel Card' Doesn't Work

In the early days of the Ba'ath regime in Syria in 1963, a new concept was fast becoming the official policy towards the Arab-Israel conflict; that of "popular liberation war". The idea, influenced greatly by the successful Algerian struggle against France, was to focus attention on the Palestinian dimension of the conflict, by encouraging the Palestinian masses to be the vanguard of the Arab campaign against Israel.

The Fatah organization, as well as other Palestinian factions all operating at the Yarmuk camp near Damascus were unleashed against Israel, and a chain of events started which led to the 1967 war, and the Israeli take-over of the Golan in response to Syria's aggression.

Some time ago, as the flames of popular revolution are sweeping all across Syria, threatening to put an end to the Ba'ath regime, it was Rami Makhlouf, Bashar Assad's cousin, who threatened Israel. If there will be no stability in Syria, there will be no stability in Israel. What was lightly dismissed as a silly statement made by somebody whose name became synonymous with the rampant regime corruption in Syria, seems to be borne out by events on the ground and official Syrian announcements.

It is in this context that we have to view the tragic events on 5 June, when Syrian citizens, some of them Palestinians from the Yarmuk camp, were ordered by Assad's intelligence apparatus to provoke troubles along the border. This was a dramatic departure from Syria's policy for almost 4 decades, of maintaining peace and stability along the border. According to some reports, financial rewards were promised to the marchers.

The Israeli reaction, as can be expected from a sovereign state defending its territory, was harsh and led to fatalities, that could and should have been averted if not for the provocation. Still, the outcome was tragic in terms of its human cost. The Syrian regime now threatens to escalate the modern version of the so-called "popular liberation war", and the official organ Tishrin wrote that the next march will involve 600,000 Syrians.

Well, threats aside, it is advised to observers of the Middle East not to be unduly worried when confronted with this kind of rhetoric. The Assad regime may have such plans in mind, but they do not have too much time to implement them, as the uprising is gathering momentum, and the end is in sight for the rulers in Damascus. This is where the regime's strategy of diverting attention from the continuing suppression of the Syrian people towards the old bogey of Israel failed miserably.

First, these were the Palestinians, residents of the Yarmuk camp, who rioted against Khalid Mashal of Hamas and Ahmad Jibril of the Popular Front General Command, two of Syria's trusted Palestinian stooges, blaming them for what happened along the border. So much for the spontaneous Palestinian protest on 5 June. Then came the flare-up in the northwest town of Jisr Al-Sughour, near the Syrian-Turkish border. If we are to believe the Syrian regime, over 120 of its security forces were killed there by so-called "armed gangs", which ambushed a Syrian Army unit and committed atrocities against its members. According to other reports, the soldiers were defectors who were killed by units still loyal to the Assad dynasty, and some, and perhaps most reliable account of what happened, is that the residents of the town, assisted by defectors, took revenge for the massacre committed against them by the regime in 1980, during the previous Sunni revolt against the Alawite-Ba'ath regime.

Be that as may, the news from northwest Syria put the events along the Israeli-Syrian border in their proper context. The popular revolt in Syria is fast deteriorating into a full-scale civil war. The Syrian armed forces are in the process of disintegration, and they lost their monopoly over the use of arms in the country. The Syrian Sunni population wants Bashar Assad out before anything else, and the conflict with Israel is not uppermost on their minds. In fact, Iranian flags were recently burnt in Dera'a, where it all started, not American or Israeli flags. We should not be led to believe however, that the Sunni masses want peace with Israel. They clearly want the Golan back in Syria's hands, they just want it to be another Syria that gets it. And as for the regime, they had better be reminded that those who saw wind, may still live to harvest the storm. 1967 can still be revisited.