Why do We Fight?

IDF officer at a remembrance ceremony

When we returned, we came in peace. We knew that the land is not empty, we knew that there are others living here, but we came in peace. We walked amazed through the land of our fathers, seeing for the first time the landscape we have heard about, dreamed about, all our lives. We were home again and we came in peace.

We bought our lands, sometimes giving all we had for the hills and valleys that once heard the voices of our ancestors. We dug out our ruined cities from the ground, and rejoiced as they saw the light of day again. We found ancient scrolls, ancient writings, and we could read them, because we spoke the same language again. We came back, landed on the shores of home. And we came in peace.

But we were rejected. Britain and France cut the ME to pieces, creating a new division between the Arabs. Suddenly there were Syrians and Lebanese, Trans-Jordanians and Palestinians. Our neighbors were divided by a foreign hand. Then those who lived in the land they called “Falastin” had to make a choice. They were defining themselves, deciding who they are and where they belong. New political forces were created. A national movement was being born. And we kept landing.

Two national movements, one land. We came back home, they lived there already. We were ready to share, some of them also. But not all.

From the turmoil of the Palestinian politics rose a man named Amin el-Husseini. He looked for power and found it in hatred. He became the leader of the Palestinian national movement by teaching violence and fear, by promoting the radicals and advocating war. He and his camp described us as an enemy, a dark force that the Palestinians must unite against. They spoke about us as the new crusaders, foreigners coming to steal and conquer. The simple truth, the vision of us as long lost neighbors coming home, was lost. All Palestinian opposition was crushed and the alleys of the Arab villages were red with blood, poured by el-Husseini’s men in his battle for power. And he won.

During WWII Amin el-Husseini found refuge in Berlin. Here he is seen observing a SS regiment of Bosnian Muslims that he helped to create.

Over and over again, wave after wave, under el-Husseini and his lieutenants the Arab majority of Palestine rose against the Jews. Over and over people died, were butchered by a cheering mob, cut by knives, hit by stones, shot by guns – because we were described as “them”, because we were defined as a legit game, because Husseini’s men called us “bilad el-maut” – “children of death”. Over and over they had to make that decision and over and over they chose violence. And that spirit still lives, not only between the Palestinians but throughout the Arab world. Israel is “them”, Israel is an outsider, Israel is abomination, Israel shouldn’t be.

The burning of Artuf, a Jewish village, 1929.

And now it comes to the West. Rumors and assumptions form public opinion. In today’s world when one says “Israel”, the others hear “occupation”. When one says “Zionism” the others hear “racism”. And people forget why we are here. What brought us to those brown hills, and why tears fill our eyes when we see the sunset over Jerusalem. People forget that we walked for centuries to get here, that we were the ones naming the rivers and mountains, that we shared the dream of returning with countless generations, that we are home. People forget that we believe in peace and long for it for more than a century. People forget that in our Declaration of Independence, in the middle of that terrible war of 1948, a day before the Egyptian bombers devastated Tel-Aviv, we stood and called for peace, for sharing, for common future. We still do. People forget that each coin has two sides. People forget that you need two sides to make peace.

The remains of an Israeli family, killed near the Egyptian border, August 2011. You can see the bullet shells on the road right to the car. This is where the murderers stood.

In this world of half-truths, of rumors and propaganda, in this reality of biased media and false logic, there is one thing I would ask you to understand. We are not fighting against the Palestinian right to exist as a nation. And we are ready for compromises. We can agree about borders, laws, trade. But there is one thing that is not under any discussion from our point of view, out of any questioning – our right to live as an independent nation here, in the Land of Israel. Here we stand united. And this is what we are fighting for.

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Parallels

Crusaders.

When reading articles about Israel or the current Middle Eastern conflicts in Arab press, you often meet two words. The first is “Zionists”. The second, that usually follows, is “crusaders”. In the ME time runs differently, and events from distant past are still relevant today. In the eyes of some of our neighbors, Israel and the Crusaders’ Kingdoms are the same. But friends – they are not.

Sure, you can easily find parallels. 900 years ago an army came from the west. It was an army of strangers – people who spoke different languages, and didn’t understand the local ways of life. They were hostile and alien. They came to conquer, to expel and to change.

This is more or less the image of Israel among its opponents in the ME. Strangers, people of another faith, coming from the west in order to conquer, expel and change. Just like them, we have a strong army, just like them we are different, just like them we are hostile and alien – in some local eyes, and in some western eyes also.

Crusaders coming by sea.

And just like them, according to those who doesn’t want us here, we will disappear one day. We will get tired of constant fighting, we will forget why we came here, we will become disoriented and weak. The constant pressure of the environment, the resistance to our presence here, will break us, and we will go back to the distant shores that we came from.

The victory over the crusaders is one of the central collective experiences of the Arab world, an achievement to be proud of until the end of time. It was the ideal type of “they” against “us”, an enemy so strong, so brutal, that unity was born, and the Arab armies marched as one against it – or so it remembered. That was truly a holy war (if any war can be holy) – a collision of religions over a place that is cherished by both – without any manipulation or rhetoric. “And now,” they say, “when new crusaders came, it will be the same. Sure, they are strong, but so were the medieval knights. One day they will fall also, just like the great castles that are now stand ruined all over the ME. It is all a matter of time, and time we have in plenty.”

Aqua Bella castle near Jerusalem.

But there is one more thing to consider when making this parallel. The crusaders were strangers. They left their homes in Europe and went to war for two things – faith and profit. Historians still argue which was more important in their eyes. When they left their castles in England, France or Germany, the road led to a strange land somewhere beyond the horizon.

When we left England, France or Germany, Yemen, Iraq or Mexico, the road led home.

And this is the central point. For us, the Israelis, this is not a new place. This is not another conquest, not an adventure and even not a spiritual journey. For us this is home. The place we came from in the very beginning. It is not an addition to our world, it is our world.

And because of it, because we were created here, we belong. Although we look different, speak different, live different – we belong. We didn’t invade, we returned. Understand this and you understand Israel and the conflict. We don’t fight against someone’s right to exist as a nation. We fight for ours.

Ethiopian Jews coming home.

And unlike those armored men of the Middle Ages, unlike the image of Israel that is so common today, we didn’t come to ruin and to take. We came to build and to give. We do not idealize war; we are thirsty for peace and understanding. The Zionist idea speaks about sharing and working together, building common future with our neighbors, becoming a part of this region as we once were. Because this is our home. We are here to stay.

And we will stay here. Stay at home. This is the difference.

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Why are We Here?

Jewish girl in Tel-Aviv

 

Recently, while traveling through the US, I’ve met a man on the train. We started to talk and when he heard that I’m Israeli, he asked me a question. “What are you Jews doing there?” This is an answer to that man.

It all began when my grandfather lost a war. He fought for independence, for the right to live his life freely on the land of his forefathers. He knew that chances are small; he knew that the enemy is strong and merciless; he knew the meaning of defeat. And yet he stood and fought, because sometimes you have to make a stand and that was such a time.

It was two thousand years ago, in a land named Judea. We rose to bring down the Roman tyranny, to crush the rule of the emperors over our hills. We did our best, but we’ve lost. Twice. First in the Great Revolt of the first century, when Jerusalem was ruined, and then in the Second Revolt of the second century, when the Romans torched the land and left nothing alive behind them. The Empire was too strong for us. And when they came, they destroyed everything. They burnt cities and villages, they slaughtered entire communities, they made us slaves. The people of Judea, my people, went to exile and only Hadrian’s legions walked through the empty land.

It was then, on the ruins of Judea, when they decided to erase the very memory of our existence. So they changed the land’s name, bringing forward an ancient word. It was the name of another place, of another people, long forgotten even in 135 AD, when they celebrated the death of Judea. They called it “Palestina”.

And my family, my tribe, had to find its way through the centuries. My ancestors, my tribesmen, scattered all over the world. We lived in Gaul and in China, in Morocco and on both sides of the Caucasus ridge. We walked on the plains of India and built homes in Russia’s frozen forests. We established communities in Argentina and taught our children Hebrew in Yemen. We fought in different armies for different rulers and their different agendas. We ploughed fields and wrote books. We were hated and we were admired. We were slaughtered in Mainz and we rebelled in Warsaw. We sailed the seas and crossed deserts. We saw history passing by.

Jewish woman in Yemen

And we never forgot. Never. We named children after our ancient heroes, prophets and kings. We celebrated the year cycle of our distant land. We prayed in the language of the Hebrew people, our people. We pointed the direction of Jerusalem to the little ones, knowing that they will point it to their own children one day. We knew that we are one tribe, one family, that Syrian Jews and Belgian Jews are the same, and only by chance one lives in Brussels and the other in Haleb. We never forgot and we waited to return to our hills.

And now we are back. And my home stands on a hill in Jerusalem, maybe the same one that my grandfather came from, two thousand years ago. I walk through the cradle of my nation, surrounded by ancient stories and songs. And around me there are many people, many faces, many languages. Some came from NY, some from Bagdad. Someone’s parents came from Poland and someone’s grandparents from Honduras. One came from New Delhi and the other, like me, from Kiev. But we are all one, one tribe, coming back to his holy ground, gathering together one more time in Jerusalem, in Israel, in the Middle East. And it seems as if finally we defeated the Roman Empire.

It was a long walk, but it led us home.

And that is why we are here.

Sunset in Jerusalem

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The Stolen Chicken or USA in the ME

A chicken.

Recently some of the republican candidates in the presidential campaign spoke about withdrawing from the ME. USA pays unbearable price, in human lives as in US dollars, for its involvement here, they say. And they are right. It does. But can America simply go away?

There is an old Bedouin tale about a stolen chicken. Once, a tribe lived in the big desert. One morning an old man discovered that his chicken disappeared. He took his sword and went to his sons’ tents. “Ho, my sons!” cried the old man. “Follow me and we will return the stolen chicken and save our honor!”

But his sons were lazy and spoiled. They had other things to do and didn’t care much about one missing chicken. “Ho, our father,” they answered, “go back to your tent and have some rest. Why should we waste our time? It is just one chicken. You have more, and we can always give you another. Don’t worry about that…” And the old man walked back to his tent.

Few weeks after, a sheep disappeared. The old man, with his sword, ran again to his sons, but they said the same thing. “Don’t worry, father, you have more sheep. We are busy and have no intention to waste our precious time!” And again he returned to his tent and put his sword away.

A month went by and one night a terrible thing happened. The old man’s daughter was kidnapped. And now his sons wore their swords, now they prepared their horses, now they gathered their friends. And when all was ready they went to their father.

“Ho, father,” they called. “Lead us and we will rescue our sister!” But the old man didn’t move. So they tried again. “Father, take your sword and mount your horse, for we have to return our sister and punish the villain!” But he didn’t take his sword. He looked down at his sons and said: “Ho, you dishonored men! I will not come with you and I will not lead you. It is your fault that your sister was taken and I blame no one but you! For if you have acted when they took the chicken, it is not the stolen bird you would have saved, but the stolen honor! And so when they took the sheep! But you let them take our honor, and you brought that on us. So if you are looking for someone to blame, don’t look around but look at each other!” And the old man went back to his tent and drank his coffee in silence.

In another post we will speak about why there is such resentment towards America in the region. Here we will point out that in the ME honor is valued above all. And today, the US lost much of its. First there was the Bush administration, charging ahead, guns blazing. Then there is the Obama one, apologizing and pledging eternal love. And both are signals of weakness. The Iraq war was seen as an overreaction, an act of an angered, hurt and unconfident bully. The Obama speech – as weakness per se. “The US is tired,” thought the ME. “The US is weak.”

You see, politics in the ME is something between an Arab market and a Bedouin tribe going to war – and sometimes there is not much difference. Aggression is not negative by itself, but you have to show control. Or else you are perceived as someone who can’t control his power, hence – has no power, hence – has no honor. And is a legitimate target.

For example, when US army was in Somalia in the early 90’s, its presence actually gave the other side a feeling of superiority. An American patrol was too armored, too armed. Helicopters flew above it. And the Somali insurgents saw that and thought: “that is because of us. They are afraid. They are weak!” Strength, my friends, is not only a matter of physical power.

And, on the other side, proclamations of affection are not always in place. If you are strong and you propose friendship, you are respected. If you hesitate to use your power, if you restrain yourself, then again – you have no power. And who needs a friendship of a weak player?

President Obama.

It even looks funny. Think of a tourist coming to a market and wanting to buy a souvenir. The trader asks for ten dinars.

“I think that we share common values!” says the tourist. The confused trader, expecting some bargaining, asks again for ten dinars.

“I want you to know that we had our differences, but from now on we will take another path.”

“Great,” says the shopkeeper. “Ten dinars.”

“Our people can flourish together,” declare the tourist.

“Can you just give me ten dinars?”

“I’ll be glad to give you the ten dinars, and I’ll even give you two more, because it is important to build our friendship on a firm basis!”

What do you think feels the shopkeeper while the tourist slowly walks down the alley? Does he want an everlasting friendship? He is probably glad to have the 12 dinar, and will be happy to have more, but this is no grounds to relations. And if there is a group of robbers hiding in the shadows and watching the conversation, what will they think?

In the 60’s there was another major player in the ME – The Soviet Union. And they were loved among the Arabs, because they didn’t asked them for a group hug all the time and they couldn’t care less about feelings. They dealt with actions. Yes, they spoke about friendship, but they also had a huge stick, which everybody knew they are willing to use. And so they never had to use it.

And today – Libya on the one hand and Syria on the other. The Libyan leader is alone, and the west acts. The Syrian is backed by Iran, and the west pretends nothing happens. It is all noticed here, and what do people think? That’s right. “They are afraid. They are weak.”

Iran. This is the greatest mistake of those republican candidates. As it often happens, people can’t see tomorrow, being too busy with today. Yes, the US went to war and for some reason stayed there. Yes, soldiers are killed and money is lost. Yes, it was the wrong war – but this is exactly the point.

The Iranian regime is not just a government. They have an ideology, a vision of a perfect world, a perfect society. Just like Nazi Germany, just like the Soviet Union. They have their vision and they want it to come true – they know it will, because it is a religious vision. It has to. They keep pushing, they keep running their nuclear program, and, while the US president is speaking of love and brotherhood, they wage a cold war against the entire region and openly speak about the destruction of another country. Maybe you will be surprised, but in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and many more, the worst enemy, the greatest threat, the biggest problem, is not Israel. It is Iran.

Iranian missile test.

And now the republican candidates are speaking about leaving everything and going home, as do many in the US. “We don’t want to fight Iran,” they say. But friends, you don’t get to decide that. Because Iran very much wants to fight you. If anything, you can choose the time, place and method. Meanwhile.

You see, dear candidates, they stole your chicken long ago. Your sheep just went missing. Will you keep waiting?

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Lost in Translation

This is a personal story. Few years ago I stood on the Olive Mountain, facing the old city of Jerusalem. There is an observation point there, and usually it is crowded with tourists, coming to Jerusalem from all over the world. That day wasn’t different. I found myself in the middle of a Swedish group, all with big black cameras and Scandinavian accent. Most of the Swedes were fascinated by the ancient walls and the massive cube of the Temple Mount, but one of them found another object of interest.

A bunch of Arab kids from a nearby village played next to the Swedish group. One of them had a toy – a cardboard airplane – that he threw around, laughing. The tourist recognized a great photo op, second only to the blue eyed Afghan girl in the National Geographic magazine – an oriental child with a toy plane in front of one of the holiest places in the world. He waved to catch the kid’s attention and then started a conversation based on spontaneous sign language.

I was born in a European country, so I understood what he intended to say. I grew up in Israel, so I understood the kid’s answers. But both of them, unable to see that they came from different societies, different civilizations, didn’t understand the other – but thought they did.

And so, the tourist said: “you will stand over here, and point the plane at me. I will count to three and take a picture”. Only the kid heard something different. He was especially confused by the gesture of pointing the plane at the tourist. He asked: “do you really want me to stand over there and throw the plane at you when you will count to three?” And the happy tourist said “yes”, proud that he managed to have a conversation with a local. The kid looked at his friends, amazed by this “majnoon” – crazy man.

Then they took positions, the tourist holding his camera and the kid pointing his plane. “One”, the tourist lifted a figure. “Two”, the kid’s friends moved closer in disbelief. “Three”, and the plane hit the tourist’s face.

The kids ran away, not forgetting to pick up the toy. The group walked back to the bus. And only the tourist stood there, sad and insulted, but most of all – surprised. Why did it happen? Did he do something to offend the kid? He didn’t deserve this…

One can only wonder how this incident influenced his views about the ME, but it probably did and not for the better. Maybe he still sits at home sometimes, somewhere near Stockholm, thinking about it during the long Swedish evenings.

And this happens all the time – not the plane throwing but the ignorance (or arrogance) to think that everybody are just like me, are thinking just like me. He didn’t have a clue – and probably still doesn’t – that the kid heard something completely different, that the kid lives in a different world, by different values and with different perceptions. It happens at the personal, the professional and the national level, time and again. And time and again western people, organizations and countries, with the best intentions, trying to help, to impose some policy to bring peace and prosperity to this troubled ME (“Hey! This time it must work!”). Time and again they fail.

You can’t win a football game playing chess. You can’t make people understand without understanding them. And we all know what they say about good intentions.

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The Last Battle of Syria

Yusuf al-Azmah

This is a story of a Syrian hero. His name is still honored, his statue stands in the center of Damascus and stories about him are still being told in the noisy cafes of the Syrian cities. If you wish to understand that country, this is a story you should read.

In 1920 a new kingdom was born. Basing on promises given by the British Empire, prince Faisal, the commander of the Arab Revolt against the Turks and son of Hussein, the ruler of Hejaz, declared himself king of Greater Syria. Back then the map of the ME looked nothing like today. Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel didn’t exist and those lands were all one piece, with Damascus as center. Jerusalem was a remote, minor city, and Jewish settlers only began building the future Israel. World War I was just over and the region was still troubled. Future was unclear.

Some time before, Faisal met Haim Weizmann, president of the British Zionist Federation and future president of the state of Israel. This meeting and others that followed produced an agreement between the two national movements. Faisal declared that if the British will stand behind their promises and an Arab kingdom will be created, he would like to see the Jews creating their home in the ME and assisting the development of his kingdom. But the British didn’t.

Haim Weizman (left) and prince Feisal, 1918

During World War I, the British Empire fought the Turkish one. The British base was in Egypt and from there they wished to move north and east. But moving wasn’t simple. Unfriendly climate, difficult terrain and long supply lines stood between them and their victory. The Turkish army, although not being the greatest fighting force in the history of warfare, still was a serious opponent.  

But the Brits were professional soldiers and masters of diplomacy, excellent students of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. They knew that the best victory is gained without fighting at all. They knew that it is good to have someone else fighting your wars. They knew that promises are cheap, but for a desperate man they are a treasure. So they went and found themselves desperate men.

In the last years of the war at the ME they promised everything to everyone. To the Arabs they promised their kingdom, and the Arabs rebelled, attacking the Hejaz railway, taking Aqaba and moving to Damascus. To the Jews they promised a “national home” in Palestine, and the Jewish people rallied around Britain, creating fighting regiments and collecting intelligence in Palestine. And to their French allies they promised a segment of the ME, a fair part of the loot. This was a promise they meant to keep.

And so, only a month after the Syrian kingdom was born a French mandate over it was declared by the League of Nations. The newly created and independent Syria was given to France. One state was presented as a trophy to another.

French forces were already active on the Syrian borders by 1920 and now General Henri Gouraud issued an ultimatum, demanding the Syrians to accept the mandate and to disband their army. Invasion was about to begin. King Faisal, understanding that he was betrayed and that he has no chance against the French forces, agreed. He was ready to accept foreign rule and the army was dissolved. However, his message never reached Gouraud, or so he claimed. The French invaded.

Yusuf al-Azmah was a Syrian born officer in the Turkish army. When WWI ended, he returned to Damascus and became minister of war. His main mission was creation of an army – which he did. That was the same army that now went home, following the king’s orders. In this state of anarchy, al-Azmah began to act, some say despite the king’s will. He called for volunteers and gathered 3000 men – both former soldiers and civilians. There were no uniform for all, no ammunition, no clear chain of command and no chance of winning the battle. They marched to Maysalun, 20 kilometers west to Damascus, in order to make a stand.

He met the French at the morning of July 24th. They had tanks, he had horses. They had troops from all over their empire. He had 270 rounds per rifle. They had planes. He had guns that went through the revolt in the desert or the Turkish tranches. They won. He and half of his men perished. They entered Damascus the next day.

The day they French took the city, General Gouraud, soon to become the first High Commissioner in Syria and Lebanon, went to the tomb of Salah a-Din, the man who crushed the crusaders 733 years before. He kicked the grave, saying: “The crusades have ended now! We have returned!” And the French mandate began.

al-Azmah square, Damascus

Yusuf al-Azmah is a national hero in Syria. For the Syrian people he symbolizes the will of freedom and the readiness to pay the price. He became what so many leaders and self-proclaimed leaders in the ME tried to become – a mythical figure, accepted by all. Today, his story is still relevant, and even though this is written on the other side of the border, and from the other side of the conflict, his courage is to be respected and he is a man that one should know, if he wishes to understand Syria a bit more.

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The Sultan’s Executioner

Things are never what they seem to be in the ME. Look at Syria – a struggle of a democracy oriented civil society against an autocratic tyrant, some will say. But when you look closer at any picture, and you take your time, you will usually notice the small – or not so small – details.

For example, you will see that the issue is not democracy against something else, and not only the uprising of a starving nation against its indifferent dictator. In Syria the ruling Alawite sect is fighting for its status, dominance and even survival. Fighting with every means. As usual in the ME, when you finally face the details, it’s one tribe against the other, “us” against “them”.

The Alawite people appeared a thousand years ago in the mountains of the Syrian shore. Arabs and Shia Muslims before, they followed a new philosophy, soon to become a new religion, soon to create a new nation. Ali, the profit’s cousin and son-in-law, became in this new teaching not only a central figure, but the very incarnation of Allah, God himself. This Alawite faith combined Christian, Muslim and even pagan traditions – influenced not only by the Shia, but also by the Byzantine Christianity and maybe, a bit later, by the passing crusaders.

The Alawite, like the Druze or the Jewish people, became a nation, but not in the European mid 19th century way – more like the Navaho or the Zulu. Being Alawite means not only being born into an Alawite family, but also accepting the nation’s traditions and mythology. And in its millennia of existence, the Alawite nation knew a lot of suffering – life is not easy for an ex-Muslim people in a Muslim world.

And then, after a short period of semi-independence in the early 20th century, the Alawite people found themselves in the new Syrian state, a creation of the French policy in the ME. Being the largest minority in Syria (today there are 3.5 million Alawite out of 21 million Syrians), remembering past suffering and facing an opportunity, Alawite young people began gaining power. Many of them were members of the armed forces. Many were in the socialist Baat’ party. And in 1971, after a thousand years of oppression, an Alawi, Hafez el-Assad became president.

For the majority of Syrians, who are Sunni Muslims, the Alawite were always “them”. The worse kind of “them”, actually, one that used to be “us”. And now they took control. Yes, in that time it was under the banners of the Baat’ party, but again – look closer and you will see an Alawi in every center of power. Bashar Assad took his father’s place. And now he is killing his own – Sunni – subjects, in order to keep his tribe at the top of the pyramid.

But let’s zoom in a bit. When you look at some of the photos of Bashar, you see a man standing next or just behind him. He looks a bit like the president, and even more as the late president. His name is Maher, and he is the younger brother of the Syrian Sulta… Sorry – president.

Bashar was the quiet, even shy, brother. Maher was the aggressive, violent one. When their older brother, Basil, the heir of the Syrian throne, died in a car crash, many people thought that Hafez will choose Maher as his successor. He didn’t. Probably because he knew that Maher is too dangerous, even comparative to an average Middle Eastern ruler. And yet, Maher became one of the strongest men of the kingdom – sorry again, republic. He is the commander of the Syrian Republican Guard and something that is called “the 4th Armored Division”, both manned with Alawite troops.

We all can imagine what the Republican Guard is. Let’s speak a bit about the armored division. When you hear the name, you think about tanks, dusty soldiers, regular boys in uniform. The 4th is just the opposite. Known also as the “Defense Companies” it is an organization with a single role in the universe – to protect the Sultan and his regime. And how do you deal with the Sultan’s enemies? Precisely. And this force was in the very center of every major internal conflict in Syria of the Assad dynasty, bringing havoc and death. It still does.

We hear about the “Syrian army” or the “Syrian security forces” shooting protesters, killing thousands. Well, usually it is not the army. It’s the 4th armored division, the Guard or other Alawite units. After all, who will protect the Sultan if not his own tribe? Usually, in a dusty tent, a crowded room, a black HOV or just standing on a roof top, it is Maher el-Assad, the young prince, who fights his tribe’s war. Fights against unarmed protesters, leaving bloody streets after him. Sometimes he even does that in person – an Youtube clip shows a man in a leather jacket, probably Maher, shooting demonstrators recently, just for the fun of it.

In this reality, one can not speak seriously about reforms, about democracy in Syria. Democracy means the ending of the current regime, giving up power, transferring it to someone else. No Middle Eastern ruler will agree to that. In Syria, just like in Libya, the Sultan will fight to the end, with his loyal brother, the black prince of Damascus, by his side.

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