It must have been one of the few times, when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad laughed after watching members of a Syrian extremist group on an Arab television channel, threatening that their organization is going to establish a radical Islamic regime to replace al-Assad’s.
That interview can frighten the already hesitant and anxious countries, and prove stories by the Syrian regime also repeated by its Russian counterpart as “correct.”
Same story as Afghanistan
These stories warn that the West will regret overthrowing al-Assad’s regime because it will be repeating the same mistake it made in Afghanistan, and that it will have to wage a new war this time to fight al-Qaeda in Syria.
We see that the French forces are currently waging one of their biggest wars in Africa, in the northern Mali, to fight extremist groups there.
There is no doubt that the West, in addition to some Arabs, are afraid that the Syrian revolution would turn into another Afghanistan especially due to the flow of jihadists into Syria to aid in combat. But instead of supporting the Syrian rebels, and stop al-Assad regime’s brutalities, they are just watching and monitoring the extremist groups.
The Syrian regime wants the West to accept that al-Assad regime is a guarantee for stability and works as safety valve against terrorism. The regime will therefore intensify the talks about the extremist groups –unfortunately they do exist.
Some of them were formed by the regime itself for this specific purpose, and some others were promoted and circulated by al-Assad regime to scare the world from another Afghanistan.
Same tactics as in Lebanon
The regime has already used the same tactic, when it was facing intense international pressure after its crimes in Lebanon… In November 2008, it claimed through its official news agency (SANA) that the extremist organization of “Fath al-Islam” detonated a car in a district in Damascus, and that the anti-Syrian Lebanese, Future Movement, was behind the terrorist organization, adding that the suicide bomber, who blew the car, was Saudi!
Of course, no one believed the Syrian lie because the Lebanese Future Movement, represented back then by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, was the one who led the war a year earlier against “Fath al-Islam” in Nahr al-Bared camp.
Assad regime frees extremists
Be sure that some of the extremist groups that are fighting in Syria were released from al-Assad prisons so that their members would come out and participate in the war. The Syrian regime wanted to prove that the Syrian revolution is only led by terrorist groups, some of whom actually belong to al-Qaeda and covet to raise the terrorist group’s black flag...
Nevertheless, the vast majority of the rebels in Syria are members of the Free Syrian Army, and al-Assad regime wants to defame their reputation and use them to intimidate Arab and Western countries. It is for the regime’s interest to circulate their photos, videos and bravery, especially that they only participated in the revolution 10 months ago and they barely represent a small number from the rebels.
This article first appeared in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 19, 2013.
(Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.)