The many messages that Assad is unlikely to heed
The Syrian regime will not forget March 2019 because of the many messages it was sent during the month, messages from other countries and from Syrians inside Syria and abroad.
All the messages and their significance will be recorded in Syria’s history and added to the long list of shameful acts that have tarnished the legacy of President Bashar Assad since 2011.
In early March, a group of lawyers filed a lawsuit against Assad at the International Criminal Court. The lawsuit was made on behalf of 28 refugees who had fled Syria to Jordan and claimed they had left their homes to escape bombing, arrest, torture, rape and death.
Assad may never stand before the international court system to face charges but the lawsuit opened the door to thousands of refugees to release their anger and transform it into legal prosecutions that will badger Assad and inspire speeches, pleadings and stories that will be passed down to future generations and shared among people.
On the eighth anniversary of the Syrian revolution in mid-March, areas retaken by the regime in Daraa witnessed demonstrations that threatened to demolish statues of Hafez Assad — Bashar Assad’s father and predecessor as Syrian president — that had been erected in public squares. The regime did not suppress the demonstrations with violence as it did in the past. It simply warned against those “conspiring against the country’s security.”
The conspirators, of course, are those who oppose the regime and they are, in fact, numerous among the Syrians. What Assad does not know is that the number of those who are ready to demonstrate, to revolt and to “conspire against the country” is far greater than the number of demonstrators who had protested against him in 2011. Syrians have been cured of their fear of the regime forever.
Another message delivered to Damascus in March was carried by the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shogyu. The message was from Russian President Vladimir Putin and, although its exact content is not known, its form and timing say, in short: “Do not force us to choose between you and the others.”
The Russians realise that the Iranians have prepared an alternative to Assad if the necessity arises. They also realise that removing Assad is not an impossible task for Tehran, even if he were to rule the country from the Hmeimim Air Base in Latakia. The reason is simple; some senior Syrian Army officers are more loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei than to Assad.
Another March message to Damascus is Baghouz’s liberation and the eradication of the Islamic State. Kurds armed themselves with this victory and are sitting down with Damascus for a negotiation that will end either in their triumph and their independence or in their defeat and their remaining a US military ally that is off limits.
Baghouz’s liberation also means that the United States no longer needs justification for remaining in Syria. The pretext of fighting terrorism, used by the United States to occupy the Syrian “island” and which was also used by the Turks, the Iranians and the Russians to occupy other parts of the country no longer stands.
Decidedly, March was a month of messages for Assad. Another message he received was from US President Donald Trump. The latter had gifted the Golan Heights to Israel. He asked the United Nations to endorse his decision and to recognise the de facto Israeli control of the Golan. Hafez Assad had already gifted the Golan to Israel, however, at least five decades before Trump did it.
Every Syrian is certain that the reality of the Golan Heights will remain unchanged while the Assads are in power. Had the recent US decision carried a recognition of the Assads’ legitimacy, Bashar Assad would have sent Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his congratulations and wished Israel continued prosperity, expansion and influence.
Anyone who has sent a message to Assad is waiting for a reply that will never come, not because of the usual excuse — “We reserve the right to reply at our convenience.” — that the regime usually produces whenever its sovereignty is violated but because Assad does not have the answers. The letters will be returned to sender, unopened.