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Assad has nine lives

HDN | 8/10/2011 12:00:00 AM | MURAT YETKİN - murat.yetkin@hurriyet.com.tr

Israelis used to make a political joke in the first few years of Bashar al-Assad: Syrian generals trembled as the father Assad entered the room; the son trembled as generals entered the room.

Israelis used to make a political joke in the first few years of Bashar al-Assad: Syrian generals trembled as the father Assad entered the room; the son trembled as generals entered the room.

Not anymore. Nowadays Israelis join Iranians, perhaps uniquely on the indispensability (for the time being) of the son Assad as the president of Syria, despite mounting pressure from all over the world regarding the violent methods Assad’s generals use against their own people who demand more democracy.

Turkey acts as one of the spearheads of international diplomacy to convince Assad to stop the excessive use of force on his citizens, which claimed more than 2,200 lives according to Turkish records since March when the protests first started.

Yet, like many others, Turkey doesn’t want Assad to go now despite diplomatic indications that the United States is set to call him to empty his chair. This is also despite reports sent to Ankara that said that at the very moment when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced Syrian tanks had withdrawn from Hama and Turkish Ambassador to Damascus Ömer Önhon joined noon prayers there, other Syrian tanks and troops were carrying out similar operations in towns in the west of the country near the Turkish border.

The reason why Assad is ignoring almost all calls and warnings and ultimatums is the same with his indispensability in the eyes of so many countries, especially the neighboring ones. Because, no one knows who is going to replace Assad and no one is sure whether the situation will be any better under his successor.

That is the reason why Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan reacted in anger to the Turkish main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu when the latter asked, “What are you going to do when your patience is exhausted? Are you going to go for a military intervention?” Everybody concerned knows there are no conditions for military intervention in Syria; like Libya or Iraq. And Assad knows that one of his main powers keeping him in his chair is his weakness.

There are two more reasons to explain why Assad feels himself safe and considers his position as different from the position of, say, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, despite warnings from Ankara.

First of all, the motivation that lead the opposition out onto the streets was their desire for a life they deserve. At first they had a pressing demand for Assad’s resignation, but as it became clear that Assad would give no concession, everyone from the Muslim Brotherhood to the liberals want to see him go. But the Syrian opposition is not well organized and they do not have any force other than their quantity; huge numbers filling the streets.

Secondly, there is no crack within the ranks of the Assad regime, unlike the situation in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Gadhafi’s Libya or Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. It is a well connected clique sharing – mostly – the same religious sect and more importantly the same Baathist ideology.

That is why Assad has nine lives. And despite the circumstances, if Assad takes positive steps in the coming weeks and months in parallel to what Turkish President Abdullah Gül had advised to him in his letter delivered by Davutoğlu last Tuesday, it will mean that Assad is convinced that those steps are for the good of his regime and of his country, not because of hollow threats.

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