Posted by on January 13, 2012 in Blog

We’re closing in on a year since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, and the protests seem unstoppable, despite the over 5,000 killed, the many more detained, and mounting international pressure. The Assad regime must know this is not sustainable. So what could it be counting on by continuing the violent crackdown? Are there examples in recent history where a sustained mass uprising was successfully crushed over a period of years?

The most obvious example would have to be the 2nd Palestinian intifada which, like the Syrian uprising, went on for an extended period of time and had a noteworthy armed component which inflicted losses on the other side, and was ultimately crushed with brutal repression. How was Israel ultimately successful at putting down a major popular uprising that lasted for years?

(1)    The power disparity between Israel and the Palestinians is very significantly in favor of Israel

(2)    The Israeli government enjoyed the support of a wide segment of its population

(3)    The veto of a major world power restricted international action against Israel

(4)    Israeli military might made military intervention by a powerful neighbor implausible

Interestingly enough, the four elements are also present in the Syrian case, only not quite to the same extent. First, the Syrian army possesses a significant power advantage over the opposition, but with military defections on the rise, that disparity cannot really be compared to Israel’s military advantage over the Palestinians. Second, the Assad government does indeed enjoy the support of a wide segment of the Syrian population, as evident by mass pro-Assad demonstrations in major Syrian cities. Third, the Russian and Chinese vetoes have thus far prevented major international action against Syria, but it’s not clear that those vetoes are as indefinitely unconditional as the US veto in the case of Israel. Fourth, while Syria’s military might is somewhat of a deterrent against regional military intervention, it’s not quite the Israeli deterrent. It would have been unthinkable for Turkey to enter Israeli territory and create any kind of buffer zone, and it’s not so unthinkable in the case Syria.

Despite being in an advantageous position, and attempting discard of major Palestinian population centers altogether with permanent walls and all, Israel still finds itself in an unstable and unresolved situation. Even if the Syrian army’s major units remain loyal to the government, and international pressure remains confined to limited sanctions and official condemnations into the indefinite future, the best the Assad regime can hope for can be seen across their southwestern border. And the “best case scenario” of remaining in power while major cities are out of its control isn’t necessarily the most likely scenario. You’d think someone in that government would’ve noticed by now that violence is futile and that a new course must be taken.

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