Syria Coming to a Boil
by Eric Margolis
Libya, in spite of its oil treasures, is strictly a sideshow in the great game of nations. We should be keeping our eyes on highly strategic Syria, a potentially combustible nation of 22.5 million that lies at the very heart of what we call the Mideast.
Sizeable demonstrations have erupted in the Syrian port city of Latakia, Homs, and in three smaller southern towns, including Daraa, where, during World War I, Lawrence of Arabia was captured and tortured by the Turks. There have been small demonstrations in the capital, Damascus. The tough Syrian army has been deployed in many urban areas.
It was inevitable that the revolutions and uprisings sweeping across the Mideast would reach Syria, which has been ruled with an iron hand by the Asad family since 1970. Now, Syria’s neighbors are watching Syria’s gathering storm with a mixture of alarm and uncertainty.
Syria has been isolated for over three decades. Damascus is under siege from the United States because of its opposition to Israel and championing of the Palestinians. US trade and arms sanctions have seriously damaged Syria’s weak economy and military forces.
Persistent hostility from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq, all three dominated by the US, have further isolated Syria among the Arabs. Until recently, Turkey and Syria were also at scimitar’s drawn, but relations have greatly improved.
Israel regularly threatens war against Syria because of the vital support Damascus gives to Lebanon’s Hizbullah movement and Palestinians. Israel’s virtual annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights and expulsion of over 125,000 Syrians from the Heights by Israel in 1967, and land expropriation by 19,000 Israeli settlers, remain inflammatory issues. Israeli heavy artillery atop Golan is within range of Damascus.