Syria warns world powers to stay away
By Rizwan Khatik - Tue Nov 01, 4:21 am
BEIRUT: With world powers fresh from their victory over Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, Syrian President Bashar Assad is warning them that the Middle East will go up in flames if there is any foreign intervention in his country.
The authoritarian leader issued the chilling warning in a weekend interview with a British newspaper, exploiting fears at home and abroad of regional turmoil, sectarian violence and Islamic extremism.
But given that NATO and the U.S. have made abundantly clear they have no appetite for another military intervention in Syria, Assad does not have to worry too much about a Libya-style operation against his regime. Still, increased international focus on his bloody crackdown on the 7-month-old uprising could bring more sanctions and isolation aimed at a vulnerable point — the weakening economy.
“Assad is playing up to the fears of the West at the moment,” said David Hartwell, Senior Middle East and North Africa Analyst at IHS Jane’s in London. “He is well aware of the Western reticence to get involved in Syria because they are scared of the consequences. He is feeding the fears that any kind of intervention will be costly.”
Syria is a regional nexus, bordering five countries with which it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel’s case, a fragile truce. Its web of alliances extends to Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran’s Shiite theocracy. Turkey, until recently an ally, has opened its borders to anti-Assad activists and breakaway military rebels.
In the interview with Britain’s Sunday Telegraph, Assad played on fears that if Syria is destabilized, it will send unsettling ripples through the region. The comments betrayed at least a hint of unease following the demise of Gadhafi, who was pulled from a drainage ditch by enemy fighters and killed on Oct. 20.
Syria “is the fault line, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake,” he said in his harshest words so far regarding the potential for foreign intervention. “Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?” he asked, alluding to the 10-year war that has bogged down tens of thousands of foreign forces.
As NATO ended its successful mission in Libya Monday, it sent a clear message that Syria would not be next.
“NATO has no intention whatsoever to intervene in Syria,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a news conference in Tripoli, Libya to declare the end of the operation. “I can completely rule that out.”