Berlin — Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has for the second time in three weeks desperately sought to distract world attention from his ongoing massacre of pro-democracy activists in Syria. This weekend, Assad’s regime encouraged — and reportedly paid — Syrian farmers and pro-Palestinian activists to storm the demilitarized zone along the Golan Heights border and illegally enter Israel.
According to the Reform Party of Syria, “Information received [indicates] the regime has paid hundreds of these farmers $1,000 each to show-up and $10,000 to their families should any of them succumb to Israeli fire. In Syria, an average salary is about $200 a month and to these impoverished farmers, such a one-time sum can keep them economically afloat for six months.”
There are conflicting media reports about the number of people killed. Many Western news organizations have recklessly and swiftly accepted the tally stated by Syria’s regime-controlled media, largely ignoring journalistic methods of verification. (Syria’s regime refuses to allow Western journalists to enter its repressive state.) It is unsettling that so many Western press dispatches fail to identify the Syrian news agency (SANA) as “semi-official” or government-controlled.
According to the most recent New York Times dispatch, Syria’s government said 23 protesters were killed; Israel’s military claims that ten violent demonstrators were shot after they tossed Molotov cocktails and engaged in arson, which triggered land mines.
Syria’s regime is relying on its longstanding crude method of hoodwinking its population into believing that their economic malaise and lack of human freedom are the result of the existence of the Jewish state. But it’s game-over for Assad. The mini-movements popping up across Syria are seeking to dissolve his regime, and Syrians have long come to the realization that Assad’s fiercely totalitarian government is to blame for their woes. When will President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton finally declare Assad to be yesterday’s man? Crystal-clear words from President Obama would be a real shot in the arm for Syria’s democrats.
One wonders if President Obama will extend his grudging and tacit embrace of President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” to Syria and Iran, and lay a concrete blueprint for the fulfillment of democracy in both countries. That would spell — one hopes — the end of two wings of the same violently anti-Western bird. Moreover, a democratic Syria would satisfy the real preconditions for a genuine peace process between Israel and its northern neighbor.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.