Syria after Houla

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    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Following the worst single-day killing of innocent civilians since the beginning of anti-government protests in Syria, many commentators and editorials are calling for dramatic measures against the Assad regime. The government, for its part, is casting itself as a victim of outside forces bent on undermining the regime and terrorizing the population. Meanwhile, Israel and Iran are worried about the implications of the developments in Syria for the region.

Official Syrian news sources were quick to report the government’s side of the story: “The Syrian cabinet stressed on Tuesday that the brutal massacre which was committed by the armed terrorist groups in al-Houla will not undermine the Syrian people’s determination to confront the conspiracy and terrorism. During a session headed by Prime Minister, Adel Safar, the cabinet pointed out that this inhuman crime is part of the terrorist escalation and the foreign plot to undermine Syria’s steadfastness and national unity.”

According to another pro-regime Syrian news site, Champress, “…armed terrorist groups escalated their terrorist acts noticeably as of late in various areas across Syria, committing murder and abduction against Syrian citizens in addition to robberies and targeting public and private properties with arson and vandalism. He stressed the need for the countries who are financing, arming and harboring the terrorist groups to commit to Annan’s plan, and that these countries’ political will to participate in stopping terrorism must be put to the test.”

While the Syrian government is trying to push away any responsibility for the massacre, for many observers the killing of children and women marked the point of no return for the Assad regime. Al Hayat’s Jameel Theyabi, for example, evokes the Israeli bogeyman to convey his emotional outrage: “Through the events in Syria, we learned we had tyrants and murderers surpassing the Israelis’ brutality, from ever since they violated Palestine until this day. What we drew from Syria’s lessons is that the Arab League is a dead corpse that does not express the will of the people….The solution is easy….All you have to do is allow the arming of the Free Syrian Army, for it to be able to protect the civilians against the claws of the regime and the barbarism of the thugs, and to avenge the martyrs….As to the Arab people, they have to rise from their deep slumber and support the Syrian people however they want!!”

Ali Khaled, writing for The National, declares reconciliation impossible: “Despite clear evidence of repeated detentions, torture and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas by Syrian government forces, it has taken the horror of Houla to finally drive home to the world what has been obvious for months. The Assad regime has crossed the Rubicon; it is inconceivable a negotiated settlement could be implemented now….As ever with Syria, the question is what happens next? Is Houla the tipping point or will the world continue to sit back and watch? Certainly no obvious resolution presents itself. Foreign intervention for now is off the table. Escalating violence, increased arming of the opposition and potential civil war are more likely scenarios.”

Faced with the horrendous images and accounts coming out of Houla, the Khaleej Times editorial makes a stirring call for action: “The wanton and cold blooded killing of over 90 innocents must prick the global conscience into wakefulness. It cannot keep seeking the refuge of words like atrocity and condemnation. This daily blood-drenched litany of deaths has blurred into a sort of dangerous acceptance….This is no longer a question of holding on to power at all costs or even one of the regime being pitted against the ‘rebel’ groups or freedom fighters but one of pure civilized conduct where no one can look the other way as the bullets pierce human flesh and babies lie in the sands riddled by gunfire…how many more Houlas are needed before we say enough is enough.”

In another op-ed also on the pages of Al Hayat, Jihad el-Khazen asserts: “The Houla massacre represents the point of no return in the armed conflict between the Syrian regime and the opposition. The peace plan which was advanced by the Arab League has failed. The peace plan proposed by Kofi Annan backed by the UN is on its way to failure….There are only two possibilities ahead: Either the regime goes, with international agreement along the lines of the Yemeni solution, or a devastating civil war ensues, a war that no one knows how it will end….There is no quick solution to the Syrian crisis, and when the history of the Syrian uprising is be written, the Houla massacre shall represent the point of no return for the regime and its henchmen.”

Reacting to news that the United States is considering a Yemen-style solution — where the besieged president accepted exile — Arab News’ Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid expresses his doubts: “However, Syria is not Yemen and Assad is not Saleh. The amount of bloodshed in Syria and the deep hatred among the rival elements could not be compared to what we have seen in Yemen. Despite this, if this solution is quickly implemented, it would be a good option for the Syrian people and for the world, but I doubt very much the possibility of the Yemeni-style solution being successful in Syria….In view of what is happening in Syria now, there is a dire need to arm the Syrian opposition and provide them with all the support needed to enable them to tighten their grip against the regime that could lead to Assad’s downfall. Until Assad feels he is strongly besieged, he wouldn’t make any concessions.”

Meanwhile, according to the Iranian Mehr News, Tehran has cautioned “‘that any crisis caused by a military intervention in Syria would definitely engulf the Zionist regime.’ MP Ali Larijani made the remarks in a speech during an open session of the Majlis on Wednesday in reference to calls by certain U.S. officials for a military campaign against Syria. ‘U.S. military officials probably have a poor understanding of themselves and regional issues because Syria is in no way similar to Libya, and (the effects of) creating another Benghazi in Syria would spread to Palestine, and ash rising from the flames would definitely envelop the Zionist regime.’”

The Iranians are not the only ones considering the broader regional implications of what is happening in Syria. Concerned about the lack of action on the part of the United States and its allies, the Israeli daily Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el suggests: “With devastating simplicity, it can be argued that anyone who puts his fate in the hands of a superpower, in the hope that this other country will save one from a nuclear Iran or from any other threat, is betraying his national responsibility. The world’s seeming helplessness in addressing the Syrian crisis plays into the hands of those pushing for an Israeli attack on Iran in order to paralyze — even if only temporarily — Tehran’s nuclear capabilities….the world powers must seriously consider the influence that their inaction in Syria is having on those who are counting the days until an Israeli attack on Iran. The Syrian threat doesn’t just hover over Syrian cities and towns; it is also warming up the engines of Israel’s fighter jets.”

Finally, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Amnon Shamosh believes the “Israeli intelligence failure on [the] Syrian front raises concerns about our plans to strike Iran…. The brutality is horrifying and a solution is not on the horizon. Both rulers and rebels are murderous and corrupt….I was happy to see that Israel’s intelligence establishment already admitted openly that its assessments regarding Assad’s survival were wrong…. Yet who can guarantee that its assessments regarding a war (strike) in the distant Iran and its outcome aren’t even more flawed and much more dangerous?”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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