After the attack in Benghazi alarm bells rang out in a number of capitals around the world. Al-Qaeda has emerged in Libya, there are jihadists in Sinai, and armed Salafis in Tunisia. Within the space of one week it seemed as if all the extremists had come out of the bottle and were now intent on destroying the world. One analyst on “Russia Today” commented with a sly smile: “We told them that what was happening in Libya and Syria was nothing but the work of Islamic terrorist groups, not popular revolutions, and that supporting these events would be a disaster for the West and the world as a whole, but they did not listen, and the death of the US Ambassador is merely the fruit of what American policy has planted in Libya”.
This accusation is nothing new, but now it is striking a chord with many after the shock of the events in Benghazi and Tunisia. Because of these concerns, press reports have suggested that US President Barack Obama is currently “contending with several possibilities”, and that the US administration is reconsidering how to deal with the Syrian revolution! These are significant and serious words, if true. Of course, it is difficult to explain in brief the importance of the Syrian people getting the support of major powers for their revolution, or any armed revolution for that matter. Without the support of major countries, Syrian revolutionary organizations may be classified as terrorists, they may be prevented from operating in Turkey or Jordan, and it will be impossible for them to raise funds and arms from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or Qatar. Practically speaking, they would end up like the Kurdish armed movements, which have existed for decades but are besieged and without legitimacy.
Here I want to be realistic and admit that in the Syrian revolution there may be greater problems than there were in Libya, and future risks that cannot be ignored when the Bashar al-Assad regime changes. However, the West is making a mistake when looking at the situation from the perspective of its fears of extremist fundamentalism. Syria is not Egypt and al-Assad is not Mubarak. Likewise, were the Syrian revolution to fail, this would be more dangerous than if it were to succeed. Armed extremist groups would spread like mushrooms because they feed on the failure of governments, on chaos and on enlisting the defeated and the demoralized. After a year of armed confrontations the Syrian opposition has severely damaged the regime and its institutions, so in order to re-establish its authority the al-Assad regime will inevitably increase its ferocity against its citizens, against the countries of the region, and against Western interests. Western countries will ultimately be forced to return to Syria to combat this, as they did in Iraq. They broke Saddam Hussein’s regime in the operation to liberate Kuwait in 1991, but left him wounded and were forced to return to finish him off in 2003. As a result, chaos has prevailed in Iraq until now, and the Iraqi regime has been swallowed by Iran.
The second key point is that the overthrow of the Bashar al-Assad regime is more necessary for Syria, the region and the international community than the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. The al-Assad regime is the long arm of Tehran in the Arab region, and has directed the majority of terrorist groups over the past forty years against the countries of the region as well as the West. There is a considerable amount of evidence linking al-Qaeda to the Syrian and Iranian regimes, and with regards to most of the terrorist operations carried out in Iraq during the past eight years; the Syrian regime has been a complicit party. We cannot rule out the possibility of it later emerging that the attack carried out on the US consulate in Benghazi, by al-Qaeda or another armed group, was an operation orchestrated by the al-Assad regime or its allies. This is especially given that the attack was designed to coincide with the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks, with a view to confuse and intimidate the US.
The third aspect is the popularity of the issue in the region. I cannot think of another issue over the past 50 years, aside from the Palestinian Cause, that has dominated the feelings of the Arabs as much as the current Syrian situation. There is a tremendous amount of sympathy for the Syrian people in our region, because of the relentless, heinous crimes committed by the brutal al-Assad regime on a daily basis, and the shocked and angry Arab people watching the news and seeing the images every evening. This has turned the majority of the Arabs against Iran and Russia, and they are also angry at the West for its refusal to get involved.
Returning to the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, which has raised fears in the West, it is true that during the reign of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi foreign embassies and interests lived under complete security and protection, but do not forget that Gaddafi, like al-Assad, was behind many terrorist crimes around the world. The West must realize that overthrowing these criminal regimes will not happen easily because there will always be reprisals, and groups will always emerge trying to replace them, but in the end the downfall of these regimes remains a positive step for the world.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya, where this article was published on Sept. 18, 2012