By David Dolan
As domestic upheaval continued to rock the Arab country of Syria, Israeli Defense Minister Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committee on January 2 that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad will be toppled from power within a few weeks time.
The veteran Israeli political leader and former armed forces chief said that the increasing defection of thousands of Syrian military personnel to the increasingly powerful anti-government opposition spells the end of the Assad family dynasty which has ruled Syria since the 1970s. Barak added that anarchy will probably follow the overthrow of the brutal regime, warning this could easily spill over into the Israeli-ruled Golan Heights, which was captured by IDF forces from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War. He confirmed press reports that Iran and Hizbullah have both been aiding the Assad regime in its fight to remain in power, which cost the lives of over 5,000 Syrians during 2011, most of them opposition protestors.
After imposing economic sanctions on the Assad regime, the Arab League was reluctantly allowed by it to send monitors into the troubled country in December. Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said the monitors would remain in place for the time being in an effort to halt the fierce attacks upon anti-regime protestors, who are mainly Sunni Muslims as are most Arab League member states.
In another major concession that began in late December, Bashar Assad ordered his security forces to retreat from most of his country’s besieged cities and towns, where street battles have raged since last March. However press reports revealed that military forces were merely moved to the outskirts of the cities and towns, and therefore could be easily moved back into urban areas very quickly.
Meanwhile, a website linked to the Assad regime called the Damas Post reported in early January that the Syrian dictator will soon announce his intention to form a new government which will include prominent members of the opposition. The report added that Assad was briefed by senior government negotiators who are quietly meeting with leading members of the anti-government Sunni opposition. This came as Assad continued to publicly justify his army's repressive actions, which have been widely condemned in most Arab countries and elsewhere around the world.
Russian leaders expanded their military support for the embattled Assad regime during December, sending a naval strike force to dock at the Syrian seaport of Tartus. This came after the Kremlin reportedly rushed over 70 shore-to-sea Yakhont SSN-26 missiles to Damascus. The missiles have been deployed along the Syrian Mediterranean coast where the Assad regime is keeping a wary eye on American, British and other NATO naval forces that regularly patrol the international waterway between Cyprus and Syria. Both the United States and the European Union have called upon Assad to quickly step down from power.
Israeli media outlets said the delivery by the Kremlin in December of over three million protective face masks to Syria was raising new concern in Jerusalem. Syria is known to possess one of the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles, initially developed with the active aid of the Communist Soviet Union in the 1970s. Bashar Assad has hinted at the possible use of such perilous weapons in the past.
Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Shara flew to Moscow for crisis consultations soon after the naval strike force arrived at Tartus, apparently in an attempt to seek more aid to help keep the repressive regime in power.
With the Middle East spinning around like a Hannukah dreidel in motion, the year ahead looks likely to be one of the most dramatic ones ever experienced in the tumultuous region. This apparent reality should give us all a renewed mandate to obey King David’s ancient admonition to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” knowing that the Eternal One will “prosper all who love her” (Psalm 122:6).
Israel fears Syria chemical arsenal ending up with Hezbollah • The Daily Star
Barak: Assad will be toppled within weeks • Jerusalem Post
Syrian rebel leader threatens to escalate attacks • Reuters
US slams Syria violence, says 'past time' for UN action • AFP
Isaiah 17 - An Oracle Against Damascus • BPB (Jack Kelley)