Will history repeat in Hama?
The president of Syria has sent his tanks to surround the city of Hama and begun mass arrests to quell anti-government disturbances.
That sentence was written this week but could just as easily have been written 29 years ago – and in fact it was, when Hafez Assad, father of the current president, sent his armor and artillery under the command of his brother, Rifaat, to Hama, where they slaughtered thousands of their fellow Syrians (estimates range from 10,000 to 40,000), mostly women and children, and destroyed much of the city, including most of its mosques to quell an Islamist uprising.
History seems to be repeating itself as Bashar Assad has ordered Syrian tanks to once again surround the city and has fired the provincial governor in the face of growing unrest. Hama, now as then, is a center of Sunni Islam. Conservative Sunnis consider the Assads ‘Alouite minority, which disproportionately dominates the country’s civilian and military power structure, to be apostates
The Arab Spring has reached Syria in a bloody summer and Bashar Assad, desperate to hang on to power, has shown his father’s penchant for brutality. Outside his Alouite minority most Syrians are calling for the dictator to leave.
But not at the White House. Obama Administration spokespeople have no shortage of umbrage over the events in Syria but unlike with Egypt and Libya, are inexplicably reluctant to call for the tyrant to leave. The President seemed more anxious to see now-ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner leave office than Assad.
They’re no longer calling him a reformer and trying to open a dialogue with Iran’s closest ally and strong supporter of Hizbollah, Hamas and other terror groups. Members of Congress are demanding the U.S. ambassador Robert Ford be recalled. It’s good advice.
Bashar is tightening the noose around Hama daily; the world is watching but not much is being done beyond freezing the bank accounts of the dictator, restricting travel of top officials and threatening to go to the World Court.
There was scant media coverage of the outrage in 1982 Hama massacre and the rest of the world seemed to pay little notice.
I raised that during lunch in the elegant Secretary’s Dining Room at the State Department with the department’s top Middle East official and my boss, Tom Dine, then the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
His department had just issued some harsh public criticism of Israel and made some veiled threats about halting aid or arms in the wake of a clash between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank. We asked our host to explain the disproportionate response.
“Nobody cares when Arabs kill Arabs,” he said, “only when Jews kill Arabs.”
Bashar Assad has tried to deflect attention from his domestic problems by sending Palestinians to confront Israeli soldiers on the Golan Heights, and several died as a result, but it was a blatantly transparent move and brought harsh condemnations. And a warning from Israel, whose air force has reportedly broken the sound barrier in the past over some of his villas when was staying there: “Behave. We know where to find you.”
But in Hama, as another Assad threatens to commit another mass murder, will the Arab League remain indifferent, will the Russians and Chinese continue to be Assad’s enablers by blocking harsher international action, will Iran and Hizbollah be allowed to continue backing the Syrian crackdown with impunity?