Analysts and pundits will be all over themselves trying to find a ‘winner’ in this conflict between Gaza and Israel. Admitting that those who have been killed and maimed from this conflict find this discussion wholly insensitive, I have to say that it is neither Hamas, Netanyahu, nor Morsi who are the clear winners. Some will argue that Hamas was able to lift the economic blockade on Gaza and therefore won. Others will note that Netanyahu will likely now cement his right-wing coalition to victory in January elections. I myself have argued that Morsi is now viewed as an international statesman thanks to his involvement in brokering a ceasefire. But the real winner of these terrible eight days is Bashar Assad.
While the world’s cameras and attention were turned to Gaza and Israel (and rightfully so), the Syrian regime sustained its killing of Syrians at the usual pace of over 100 civilians per day. Yes per day. Not only did Assad gain from having the media shift focus to one of the longest enduring conflicts of the region, the Syrian dictator also benefited from returning the anti-colonialist narratives to deciphering the Middle East.
For the past 20 months, Assad has reminded his followers that those behind the Syrian rebellion against his government are a collusion of American, Israeli, Turkish, and Qatari interests. Not to go into the absurdity of such a coalition of non-likeminded governments, this is a narrative that sticks in parts of the Middle East where there remains deep suspicions about foreign policy toward the region. In a previous article I argued that the Arab Spring had shaken many Arabs’ view of their own agency — which I think was a refreshing thing. Don’t get me wrong, it is easy to understand why Middle Easterners see themselves as perpetual pawns in a larger chess game of international players — because, indeed they have been in the past and will likely be so again in the future.
So expect to see Assad — and the Iranian government for that matter — speechifying in the next few days in order to appeal to the heartstrings of Arabs and Muslims that they should not turn their eye away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If one does as told, they’ll forget that as of today Assad has killed 40,000 Syrians and unfortunately we are still counting …