Israel Update for July 2012

Continued from page 2

Warfare Spreads To Damascus

Just hours before the atrocious bomb blast in Bulgaria, a massive explosion rocked the military headquarters building in the Syrian capital city of Damascus. The blast left Defense Minister Daoud Rajha dead, along with former Defense Minister and senior military official General Hassan Turkmani. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's brother-in-law and close aid, Assef Shawkat, was also slain in the unprecedented attack. The country's wounded intelligence chief died in hospital two days later. Syria's Interior Minister and several other senior officials were also seriously injured. In summary, the attack was a massive blow to the Assad regime that many said spells its imminent end.

When President Assad failed to appear on television in the hours (and later days) after the deadly bombing, rumors began to swirl that he too was among the dead and wounded. With chaotic warfare now gripping the capital city and the entire country, including for the first time the largest city and financial capital, Allepo, near Turkey, the unsettling reports could not be confirmed. An unnamed senior Israeli Defense official, thought by many to be Ehud Barak, told reporters the deadly bomb attack was a "major regional earthquake" that measured "seven on the Richter scale." Earlier in the month, the son of former Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass - a close friend of Bashar Assad - defected to France, dealing a significant blow to the tottering regime. Many other military leaders fled the country as the month wore on. Another defection was Syria's ambassador to Iraq, who like Tlass is a Sunni Muslim.

Slain Syrian Defense Minister Rajha was born into a Syrian Orthodox Christian family, the most senior Christian member of Assad's cabinet. His death enhanced growing alarm in the Arab country's significant Christian community (which comprises about 10% of Syria's 22 million citizens) that the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood-led revolt against the Assad regime will end up harming their security. They fear any new government that replaces the Assad regime will reflect the anti-Christian Muslim fundamentalism now engorged in Egypt. Even before the Damascus attack, many Syrian Christians had been fleeing the intensifying warfare in their country, as hundred of thousands earlier did in neighboring Iraq (with a majority of Christian refugees choosing not to return to the post-war country, now "ruled" by feuding Shiite and Sunni politicians). As was the case under Saddam Hussein, the Assad regime - comprised mainly of members of the minority Alawite Muslim sect - officially allows freedom of religion in Syria, with Christians there saying they have indeed enjoyed such freedom over the past few decades. They reportedly fear their embattled country will soon split up into rival sectarian Muslim components, as earlier occurred in Lebanon and Iraq.

July saw the heaviest fighting so far in the 17-month-old Syrian Sunni Muslim uprising. Hundreds perished every day, with the death toll now nearing 20,000. Just three days before the Damascus bombing, the Red Cross officially declared the conflict a "civil war," meaning both the regime and opposition forces are now subject to the "rules of warfare" spelled out in the Geneva Convention.

The Red Cross statement came as United Nations observers investigated the latest mass killing in the war-torn country, which took place in the village of Tremseh earlier in the month, leaving dozens dead. A subsequent UN report said Syrian troops went door-to-door in the small farming community, checking ID's before shooting dead some of the residents and arresting others. However unlike earlier large-scale slaughters, the UN said the attack - which it said left "pools of blood and brain matter in a number of homes" - mainly targeted Syrian army defectors and anti-regime activists, meaning most of the victims were adult males. Syrian officials denied UN claims that government forces employed tanks, artillery and attack helicopters during the July 12 attack, but eyewitnesses said otherwise. Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi maintained the attack "was not a massacre" as many media outlets reported, but instead a "military operation targeting armed fighters" who had taken control of the village.

Soon after the seismic bombing in the heart of Damascus, rebel forces took control of all border crossings along the Syrian border with Iraq, which means they can insure a free flow of weapons from Sunni Muslim supporters located there and beyond. Israeli analysts said the dramatic captures indicated the Syrian army is rapidly disintegrating, with remaining loyal regime forces being rushed to Damascus and other major cities now under rebel siege. They worry that the intensifying conflict might spark off major clashes inside Iraq between Shiite militias that support the Assad regime and Sunni Muslims that tend to support it. The conflict could easily also directly involve Shiite Iran, which has Revolutionary Guards already operating inside Syria in support of the regime, and spread to Lebanon, Jordan and/or Turkey, which all received thousands of additional refugees fleeing the growing warfare during the month.

Naturally enough, the greatest concern in Jerusalem is that the crumbling, but massively armed, Assad regime might lash out at Israel before surrendering to Sunni-led Muslim forces backed by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries. Israeli analysts note that Hizbullah's current control of much of Lebanon would be seriously jeopardized if the Assad regime is successfully deposed, as seems increasingly likely, if not imminent. Iran would lose its main frontline ally along Israel's borders, and Hamas would lose one of its most important patrons in the region. All that to say, Assad and his allies - ominously including Russia and North Korea - might band together to support the embattled regime by backing or participating in a military strike upon Israel, and possibly NATO member Turkey and Jordan as well. The Kremlin would not be expected to join in any regional attack, but would probably not prevent it either. Some Israeli analysts said while Iran and Hizbullah denied responsibility for the terror attack in Bulgaria, they left enough evidence to make it clear they were in fact the perpetrators. Just as the two world wars began in Europe (the first with an assassination in Austria), some warned that Iran and its allies might be attempting to spark off a worldwide conflict centred this time in the Middle East.

Indeed, in a speech delivered by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to mark the beginning of Ramadan, the overall Iranian clerical leader declared that Muslims everywhere must prepare for war since "we are now living in the end of times." He predicted the imminent return of the Imam Madhi, a medieval religious leader that many Shiites, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believe will reappear in the last days of this era to convert the world to Shiite Islam. Most portentously, he is expected to emerge in the midst of massive regional conflict and upheaval that leaves a third of earth's population dead. All "infidels" who resist his rule will be slain, especially Christians and Jews. Speaking during Friday Muslim prayer services on July 20, Khamenei proclaimed that "The issue of Imam Mahdi is of utmost importance, and his reappearance has been clearly stated in our holy religion of Islam. We must study and remind ourselves of the end of times and Imam Mahdi's era, and prepare the environment for the coming so that the great leader will come." In other words, Iran must bring the region and wider world to massive warfare in order to fulfill the Shiite "prophecy."

In reality, Israel and its allies and Iran and its surrogates have already been at war for many years. The extremist Iranian theocratic regime, not Israel, initiated the intensifying conflict, now possibly coming to a climax, vowing decades ago to destroy both the "Great Satan" America and the "Little Satan" Israel. With the region now violently quaking and much more apparently just ahead, it is gratifying to recall that Israel's anointed Messiah - not some Shiite Muslim Imam - will ultimately govern the world from Jerusalem, ruling with justice and righteousness and bringing an end to all terror and war: "They will not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain. For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.