No Voice Louder than the Cry of Battle
By Andrew Tabler
ICWA Letter August 2006
DAMASCUS, Syria – The late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser is famous internationally for turning his country’s military defeat into a “diplomatic vic
tory” over Israel, Britain and France in the 1956 Suez crisis and defiantly shifting
Egypt into the Soviet camp during the Cold War. In the Arab World, Nasser is better known for his subsequent embrace of authoritarian socialism and its export through the Pan-Arab revolution across the region. The domestic political reforms
Nasser and his “Free Officers” promised when they seized power in 1952 were
postponed until Arab “dignity” was restored by Israel’s defeat. The policy, which dramatically ended when Israel routed the Arabs in the Six Day War of June 1967, was encapsulated in the slogan “No voice louder than the cry of battle.”
Fifty years later, history seems to be repeating itself, this time in Syria. High civilian casualties from Israeliair raidsin this summer’s Hezbollah-Israeliwar were a public relations disaster for Washington, which openly delayed UN ceasefire talks to give Israel more time to pound Hezbollah into submission before a “sustainable peace” could be put in place.
When the war ended after 33 days with neither side the victor nor the vanquished, the eyes of diplomats quickly turned to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a possible party who could rein in Hezbollah. Mysteriously quiet during the war, Assad finally seemed to be on the same political page with his people. Young Syrians donned yellow Hezbollah T-shirts en masse and car and shop windows were plastered with banners featuring Assad, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The state waved visa and customs restrictions on the Leba-nese-Syrian frontier to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees, which werelargely fed and sheltered by Syria’s private sector.
Picking up on such signs, U.S. State Depart ment officials reportedly drew up a plan that aimed to drive a “wedge” between Syria and Iran (see AJT-13). High-ranking European officials showed up in Damascus for the first time since the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri in February 2005. A number of articles in the Western press tried to persuade the Bush Administration, unsuccessfully, to engage Syria to help disarm Hezbollah.
When Assad finally spoke on August 15, it was clear that he is going his own radical way. Assad predictably praised the resistance and accused Washington and Israel of planning in advance its massive response to Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on July 12. Assad unexpectedly accused European countries of being involved in a U.S.-Israeli “conspiracy” against Syria, and branded Arab leaders “half-men” with “half-positions” concerning support for “the resistance.” Assad warned Western embassies in Damascus not to meddle in Syria’s internal affairs — an admonition that could be the veritable death knell of the country’s Western-funded and designed reform efforts. Like Nasser after Suez, Assad is pushing his country into the arms of America’s archenemy, this time the nuclear-hungry Islamic Republic of Iran. The question remains, however, just how many Syrians are ready for Tehran’s embrace.
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