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Why Assad crosses red lines

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

"The Syrian president has not changed his stance after more than 70,000 citizens have been killed and after he's lost control over vast areas in the country. He has also not altered his stance even after his premier came under an assassination attempt. The Syrian president will not alter his stance unless someone close to him is killed or unless he himself is subjected to an assassination attempt."

This is a correct assessment made by a politician after many others failed to understand president Bashar al-Assad's maneuvering capabilities.

After my long observation of his policies, I think his capabilities are far more dangerous than ones that can be summarized with his powers and security apparatuses, despite their immensity.

I think the most dangerous element regarding Bashar al-Assad is Bashar al-Assad himself. On a personal level, he appears to his guests as an ignorant man with no capabilities whatsoever to the point that he cannot even decide what he's having for breakfast the next day! But his true character lies in twelve years of terror and of walking on the edge of the abyss. He has survived throughout all his adventures and crimes, except for surviving perhaps the current crisis. I fear that even if he loses the battle in Damascus, he may succeed in remaining a president and thus remain a thorn bloodying the region.

Partners in war

Although we reiterate that Assad is Iran's puppet, we must admit that he is leading the game. He is using Iran, Hezbollah and Russia to achieve his own aims. And of course they are his partners in war because they too seek to achieve their own aims.

We can recognize his stubborn personality and style in managing his crises by looking at his record of governance. He adopts the same style at all times including in how he deals with red lines that - unlike how others understand them - mean nothing to him other than that the game is still on.

Take how he dealt with neighboring Lebanon eight years ago as an example. He must have at an early time planned to exclude top Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri from the arena in order to serve his scheme of politically taking over Lebanon and eliminating all powers that do not agree with him. So Assad began by attempting to murder Marwan Hamadeh, a Druze leader considered to be a sympathizer with Hariri. The assassination attempt against Hamadeh was a message to Hariri who left Lebanon and who only submissively returned to cast a vote in parliament upon Damascus' wishes.

Despite this, Assad killed him. By assassinating Hariri in broad daylight, Assad trespassed what many thought were red lines. Following wide international condemnation, he withdrew his forces from Lebanon in compliance with a U.N. Security Council decision, and he implied that he wanted a reconciliation. Every time he trespassed a red line, he would hint that he wants to retreat by making confirmations that he is a head of state who commits to political protocols.

However, in reality he practiced politics as a mafia leader. He gave many promises to the world politicians and then physically got rid of most of his Lebanese rivals, Christian and Muslim leaders, military men and media figures. Sometimes he even got rid of some out of anger like when he killed George Hawi because he made a television appearance condemning him!

Kill and reconcile

Every time he killed someone, he implied to others that he is worried and that he desires achieving a reconciliation. Then he surprises us by killing someone else! He adopted this style until he eliminated more than 20 leaders between the years 2005 and 2007. And he was never punished for any crime. He recently resorted to this style again by killing Lebanese security official Wissam al-Hassan, perhaps because of the latter's relation with the Syrian revolution.

Assad is not color blinded. He sees red lines but steps on them. And as long as no one wants to stop him, he will only surprise the world with what's worse.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Another similar case was his planning of kidnapping Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza and then Hezbollah's attack on an Israeli patrol beyond Lebanese borders. This was a violation of red lines on the level of the balance of his relations with Israel. He counted on Iran by announcing the joint defense treaty with it.

Israel sufficed with attacking Lebanon and sabotaging both Lebanon and Gaza. He alleged he helped with negotiations while, on the other hand, he obstructed reaching any solution. Back then, when Egyptian head of intelligence Omar Suleiman informed him that he managed to strike a deal in which Israel releases 1,000 Palestinian detainees in exchange of releasing Shalit and that Hamas official Khaled Meshaal agreed, he was extremely furious. Assad responded to Suleiman saying that Meshaal possessed nothing to make any promises, and so he sabotaged the agreement. The case of Shalit was not resolved until two years ago when the Syrian revolution forced him to accept Shalit's release in October 2011. Like Iran's leaders, Assad exploits the Palestinian cause without taking into consideration anyone else's interests.

The third similar case has been witnessed during the beginning of the Syrian people's uprising two years ago. On one hand, he shook hands with mediators and promised them what they want to hear regarding a democratic transition, like the Turks. On another hand, he committed atrocities the region has witnessed nothing like, such as his killing of child Hamza al-Khatib in a hideous manner.

Damascus' dictator has a personality that vilifies him. He thinks he is capable of overcoming any crisis. He must believe in miracles in his favor like all authority maniacs and tyrants. This is why I fear that he will not hesitate to suffocate 100,000 Syrians later using chemical weapons as he has several times tried them in small doses in the past few months. He thinks he succeeded in fooling the world or obstructing it by hiding behind the Russians.

Assad is not color blinded. He sees red lines but steps on them. And as long as no one wants to stop him, he will only surprise the world with what's worse.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.


This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 12, 2013.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.