The mass revolt in Syria is under brutal attack from the Syrian state. And circling in the background are Western governments looking to increase their dominance in the region.
Syrian forces shot unarmed people in Jisr al-Shughour in the north of the country as tanks laid siege to the town of 70,000. Some 10,000 people were forced to flee.
Authorities claimed that 120 security personnel had been killed by “armed gangs” in the town.
But non-state witnesses said the deaths came when the military turned their guns on soldiers who refused to fire on unarmed protesters.
It seems that, after being told that they were being sent to fight “terrorists”, the soldiers found themselves facing unarmed demonstrators.
Some refused orders to fire on unarmed people, and so their commanders ordered them shot.
The “security operation” was launched by the army’s 4th Brigade, commanded by Maher Assad—the brother of the country’s dictator Bashar.
The brigade conducted a scorched-earth policy. Fleeing refugees said their animals were killed and their crops burned. Homes were torched—allegedly with civilians inside—and hundreds were arrested.
The regime has repeatedly used lethal force since the popular movement mushroomed across Syria in March.
Despite an estimated 1,200 deaths at the hands of security forces and the arrest of 10,000 people—many of whom have been subjected to torture—the revolt has continued.
The current clampdown is a repeat of the tactics used by the current president’s father, Hafez Assad, whose own brother commanded the military forces that levelled the city of Hama in 1982. The Hama massacre saw tens of thousands killed to crush the uprising.
But the dynamic of the current attacks is different.
The Assad regime is learning from events in Libya, where rebels were able to create a liberated stronghold in Benghazi.
The assault on Jisr al-Shughour was both to create a new legacy of fear, as with the Hama massacre, and to prevent a rebel base city from being formed.
Yet, despite that legacy of fear, over 150,000 people have demonstrated in Hama.
There is another dynamic at play as well.
Forces far from friendly to the revolution see the potential to reassert Western influence, as in Libya.
The refugee camps on the Turkish-Syrian border are seen as an opportunity by the West to hijack the revolution.
According to journalist Robert Fisk, the Turkish military has drawn up plans to send troops into Syria to carve out a “safe area” for refugees.
This would enable direct Western intervention in Syria.
As the British and Nato war on Libya shows, imperialist powers are not interested in assisting revolution. They want to roll it back and install an acceptable pro-Western government.
And despite Tory foreign secretary William Hague’s love of imperialist rhetoric and old fashioned gunboat diplomacy, Western intervention is not certain.
The US and Israel are, in particular, walking a tightrope.
They want Syria’s regional role weakened, but for the moment they are uncertain that they want the collapse of Assad’s government.
Ayoub Kara, a member of the Israeli parliament from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, summed it up, saying, “I prefer the political extremism of Assad over religious extremism.”
That’s why, up until last week, the US had given tacit support to the crushing of the revolt.
But as with Libya, the scale of the repression against the revolution has presented a dilemma for Western powers.
The West may yet decide to allow Assad to continue trying to drown the revolution in blood in the name of “stability”.
They may impose sanctions rather than intervene militarily.
But the moves to a UN resolution for “humanitarian” access to Syrians threatened by violence is broad enough to
provide a pretext for more direct intervention later.
China and Russia have so far opposed this in order to pursue their own interests in the region.
But what is certain is that the hope for the Syrian revolution lies with those protesting for democracy and against the regime—not with the imperial games of the Western powers.