Syria: A Serious Situation and a Failed Student of Machiavelli

Hafez al-Assad was one of Niccolo Machiavelli’s more successful students. He put Machiavelli’s teachings into practice and thrived as Syria’s unchallenged dictator. His son Bashar, however, was not cut out for dictatorship and has failed miserably at emulating his father. Now is the time for the world to put an end to his experiment.


Niccolo Machiavelli was a civil servant out of a job in 15th century Florence. In order to gain favor with the new rulers of Florence, the Medici family, he decided to write them a book with his advice on how to be a successful ruler, “Il Principè”, ‘The Prince’. Machiavelli was writing to a dictator, not a democratic leader, and thus, his methods are known to this day as “Machiavellian”- cunning and brutal.

And this is what he wrote:

“Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.”

(The Prince, Ch. XVII)


And also –

“…men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.”

(The Prince, Ch. III)

In 1982 there was a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Syria. Members of Hafez al-Assad’s “Ba’ath” party were attacked and killed. In response, Assad sent an armored division under the command of his brother, Rif’at to surround the city of Hama, where the rebels were stationed. In the ensuing massacre, which included the use of poisonous gas, between 10,000 and 40,000 citizens of Hama were brutally killed. The rebellion was crushed and Assad ruled unchallenged until his death in 2000. The world made its mandatory displeasure known and continued to go about its business.

Hafez al-Assad (wikipedia)

Bashar al-Assad was never meant to rule. His older brother, Basel, had been groomed from a young age to take over the family dictatorship. As part of his grooming, he served as a high ranking officer in the Syrian army. However, in 1994 Basel crashed his Mercedes into a tree and left his father without an heir. Bashar, the 2nd son, was rushed back to Syria from London, where he had been studying to become an eye doctor.

Bashar spent the next few years in dictator training. In 1999 he was drafted into the army, and immediately received the rank of Colonel. A year later, Hafez died of cancer, and the Syrian law was changed and the minimum age of the Syrian president was lowered to 35, Bashar’s age.

Bashar al-Assad

The world hoped that having a young, British-trained doctor as dictator of Syria would bring on a new age of progress and democratization for Syria. The world was wrong. Last year, when protests broke out in the southern city of Dar’a (pronounced Dar-Ah), Bashar attempted to quell the demonstrations with force. When that didn’t work, he implemented “reforms”- cosmetic changes in the regime meant to look like change, while keeping everything exactly the same- under his complete control.

I watched his speech last year before the Syrian parliament. The Syrian parliament is made up of one party- Bashar’s party. He spoke of terrorists armed and directed by Israel, in a futile attempt at convincing the people that joining the protests would not be in their best interests. He called on Syrians to be united against this foreign threat. His speech was punctuated by excited-looking parliament members getting up, one after the other, to praise his wisdom, followed by loud applause.

The people were not impressed. Although, as a means of deflecting criticism from the murderous dictatorship ruling them, every Syrian child has been indoctrinated from birth to hate Israel, they did not buy Assad’s story. The protests increased, and so did the regime’s brutal crackdowns. Eyewitnesses claim that the military and the four Syrian secret services have been joined by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, who are even more brutal than the Syrian military.

Assad made the mistake of believing that he could pull the same trick as his father did in 1982 in small dosages, and get away with it. But what may have worked in 1982, can no longer work in the age of Facebook and Twitter. The people have seen what happened to Zine Bin-Ali in Tunisia, to Moammar Gaddafi in Libya and to the unchallenged Hosni Mubarak in Egypt-now dying a slow death in an Egyptian prison.

The Syrian conflict is not merely a political one. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite minority in Syria, comprising a mere 11% of the Syrian population. The Alawites consider themselves Muslims. The Muslims consider the Alawites to be idol-worshippers. The Assad regime based itself on placing Alawites in positions of power. The four secret police organizations were run by Alawites, preferably family members, such as Bashar Assad’s own brother-in-law, Aasef Shawkat, who is rumored to have been killed a few weeks ago by the rebels. Sunni Muslims were part of the army and the government, but never in positions of real power. The Sunnis have been oppressed by the Alawites, who they consider to be infidels, for 42 years, and they’ve had enough. This makes Assad and the Alawite minority even more desperate and dangerous.

I recently read this article enumerating all the reasons why Israel would not want foreign intervention in Syria in order to topple the Assad regime. The article claims that from a strategic point of view, the Israeli army would rather a known quantity over the unknown, and more importantly, the Israeli army fears what will happen to the large arsenal of chemical and biological weapons that Assad has kept, when the regime collapses. These weapons of mass destruction, whose existence, unlike the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, is confirmed, are likely to fall into the hands of a fundamentalist Muslim regime that may take over in Syria, as is happening in other countries who have undergone the ridiculously named “Arab Spring” (Winter would have been more appropriate). Even worse- they may fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a known quantity- they have motive. With biological and chemical weapons, they will also have the means to do serious harm to Israel. For these reasons, the article claims that Israelis are against stopping Assad’s murderous spree.

Map of Syria (google) with my additions

However, the Israeli conscience cannot sit by and watch genocide or democide (a term coined by a researcher named Rommel to describe genocide committed on the basis of political affiliation). Contrary to claims in the article, Israeli citizens and leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, have been speaking up, almost on a daily basis, against the massacres being committed in Syria. Assad must be stopped. Whether it be because of our experiences in the holocaust, or be it due to plain, good-old, Jewish values, we cannot sit idly by as innocent civilians are hacked to death by their government, right next door. However, Israel itself cannot interfere. Syrian hatred of Israel is deeply rooted. Syrian dissidents, when discussing the brutality of their own regime, quite often equate it to Israel’s supposed policies in Gaza, and say “they’re just as bad as Israel”. Therefore, if Israel were to openly lend its support to any side in this Syrian mess, it would only weaken that side and destroy its legitimacy.

I also recently read this ridiculous article. The article claims that the US government is pushing to invade Syria, as it did Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to exploit the abundant Syrian oil and resources. Let me disappoint you, the Syrians have no oil. They have no resources. They barely have enough water for the small amount of crops that they grow. Syria is a poor country, led to destitution by 42 years of dictatorship and military spending, aimed at subduing the people and inciting them against Israel. If NATO and the US were to invade Syria, as they should, they would be doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They would be doing it because it’s the right thing to do.


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  1. I like this well informed article and would like to see it read by as many as possible in the hope of bringing an end to the misinformation that is out there.

  2. Dear readers, even though I wrote this piece almost 10 months ago, it remains one of the most viewed articles on my blog to this day. Many of the readers accessing this article come from Arab countries. If the laws of your country permit you to respond in an Israeli blog, I would be quite interested to hear your thoughts on this post.
    Do you agree with my analysis?
    Do you think a western invasion of Syria is relevant? Was it relevant a year ago, when I wrote this?
    What do you believe would happen in case of western intervention? What would happen without it? What would happen if Israel intervened?
    How do you view the reports of strikes carried out by Israel against weapons transfers to Hizballah?

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