Anti-Assad protesters in Ankara, Turkey.(Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)
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Sanctions, Anxiety, Horror Greet Crackdown

As Syria’s Assad ups violence, U.S., Iran, Israel consider their interests

Marc Tracy
April 27, 2011
Anti-Assad protesters in Ankara, Turkey.(Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

President Assad’s crackdown on the Syrian people has continued basically unabated, with well over 100 protesters killed and numerous cities, like Daraa in the south, essentially under siege—a repression arguably matching the ferocity and violence of Colonel Gadhafi’s war against Libyan rebels, which prompted Western military invention. (Firing on people who are mourning the victims of previous firings seems especially low.) Yet, unlike with Libya, the United States and Britian have, for now, essentially ruled out military action; yesterday, the U.N. Security Council adjourned after having ruled … not much in particular.

Though there have been some cracks in the regimes façade—notably, two respected parliamentarians and a senior, state-appointed religious leader have resigned—there is no mistaking the Syrian uprising for Egypt’s, which with relatively little bloodshed actually unseated a despot. It would to take more to stop Assad, and, for now, it appears more severe sanctions are on the way: The Obama administration and, likely, several European nations are all set to freeze the assets of senior Syrian officials. Obama has joined with folks as disparate as the European leaders and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a popularly elected Islamist whose country borders Syria, to call for an end to the violence. (Human Rights Watch has argued for even further sanctions.) But is this enough? Walter Russell Mead, for one, argues that the Syrian response has been even harsher than Libya’s, and wants to know where the Western planes are. And indeed, the Obama administration, reports Foreign Policy, has been relatively late to condemning Assad; has not prepared sanctions that would affect the hereditary Syrian president directly; and is not planning to call for his outright ouster.

The administration’s interest in Syria is complicated by the involvement of the country’s erstwhile patron and the U.S.’s staunch foe, Iran. Obama accused Syria of seeking Iranian help to put down its uprising. In fact, though, it is Iran whic is feeling nervous: The Islamic Republic has imposed a media blackout on coverage of the events nearly next door. But, even more than the prospect of Syrian protesters inspiring Iran’s largely dormant Green Movement by example, what Tehran likely fears most of all is the loss of a crucial Arab ally that allows it to project its power to Turkey’s doorstep (and in turn to the doorstep of Europe), into Lebanon, and beyond the region through proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas.

Speaking of which! Where does Israel stand on this? Perhaps surprisingly, the emerging consensus in the Jewish state—by no means unanimous—is not dead-set against the leader of an explicit foe which even has a territorial dispute with it (it’s called the Golan Heights). In Israel, rather, Assad’s Syria is generally viewed as—here’s a great phrase, given that it is meant almost as a compliment—“a reliable foe.” Assad may work against Israel, the thinking goes, but he does so relatively predictably, and perhaps for that reason alone it is best for him to stick around. Then again: Some Israelis saw the potential for longer-term stability offered by a more democratically run Egypt, despite a dictatorship there that, on balance, was friendly with Israel (and that, compared to Assad’s regime, was Israel’s kissing cousin). When a regime is as antagonistic as Syria’s, the promise of democracy leading, in the long run, to greater peace can seem even more plausible. As things stand now, many in Israel are also increasingly planning for something different than what came before.

Mainly, though, from over here anyway, it feels even easier to root against the Syrian regime because of how over the past month it has confirmed just how heinous it is.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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