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Jewish World Review June 14, 2000 / 11 Sivan, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

Assad the Terrible --
SOME OF THE THINGS being said about the late Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, are complete fiction. They remind me of the fantasies floated about expiring and incoming Soviet leaders. Yuri Andropov was a regular guy because supposedly he drank Scotch and listened to American jazz.

Now we are supposed to believe that Assad hungered and thirsted for peace with Israel. National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "We think the Syrian government has committed itself to the path of peace, and we hope that will continue even with the passing of President Assad.''

One commentator noted on CNN that Assad's son, Bashar, will be easier to deal with because he speaks English and his father didn't. Gee, if only Hitler had spoken Hebrew.

President Clinton sheds a phony tear about his "friend'' -- has he forgotten that Assad was involved in the death of 241 American Marines in Lebanon in 1983? Yasser Arafat declares a three-day period of mourning -- this despite the fact that one of Assad's proxies once tried to assassinate Arafat and Assad refused to let the PLO leader into his country.

Assad was a brutal dictator, an oppressor of human rights, a murderer of anyone who challenged him and a man resolute in his opposition to making peace with Israel. His external armies and internal terror squads kept his people in line. He amassed an arsenal of long-range missiles and chemical weapons. Is there any question against whom he planned to use such devices?

This is the worst possible time for Israel to consider withdrawing from the Golan Heights or making any kind of deal involving Syria. Bashar Assad will succeed his father only because the late dictator wanted it that way and because the Syrian constitution was changed to accommodate Bashar who, at 34, is six years too young to serve as president under the former document.

Assad belonged to the Alawites, a Muslim sect that makes up only 10 percent of the population. When the more numerous Sunni Muslims (85 percent of the population) realize this could be their chance to gain power, they may seize their long-suppressed opportunity.

A revolution could erupt in Syria. Middle East commentator Emanuel A. Winston conceives the following scenario: The Alawite-dominated army will first support Bashar Assad in order to maintain its own position. If the army leaders fail to withstand a challenge, they might flee the country. Assad's ruthless and cruel brother, Rifaat, who has influence with the army, could attempt a power grab. If he does, a struggle may break out between factions of the army with Bashar and Assad's brother-in-law on one side. The brother-in-law controls the drug trade in the Bekaa Valley in cooperation with Colombia's drug cartel. Twenty percent of the drugs entering the United States come from the Bekaa Valley.

Commentator Winston speculates there could be a movement in Lebanon to break away from Syria and force Syria's 40,000-man army, stationed primarily in the Bekaa Valley, out of Lebanon. That could open the possibility of Syria's Alawite-dominated army with its Sunni foot soldiers facing down a strange coalition of Lebanese Muslims and Christians who want their country back.

Iran and Iraq have their own interests in Syria and could support whichever appears likely to win.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who has been in concession mode since taking office -- and a lackey of the Clinton Administration and U.S. State Department -- is in no position to benefit from Assad's death. He has floated the fiction that giving up the Golan Heights would make Syria more amenable to a peaceful coexistence with Israel.

Apologists will try to whitewash Assad's record as they pursue their own legacies, but they should not be allowed to do so. Liberals in America and Israel will wail at Assad's departure, but they should save their tears. Israel must again awaken to the reality that it is solely responsible for its defense and that it cannot rely on friends or enemies for preservation.

One might say "good riddance'' to Assad if that were the end of the story. But there are other terrible dictators -- just like him -- with the same deadly objectives.

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