In his 2004 book The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky says it better than I ever could:
“Non-democratic regimes always need to mobilise their people against external enemies in order to maintain internal stability.”
It is undoubtedly terrible to think of the 20 people who were said to have been killed yesterday on the border between Syria and Israel.
Their deaths achieved nothing, not for Israel – once again the subject of international condemnation – not for the Palestinians and certainly not for the peace process.
Well, not nothing. Because there is someone for whom those deaths were not an unmitigated disaster.
At this point, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s involvement in yesterday’s border provocations remains the subject of speculation, although Israel’s Danny Ayalon seems clear that Assad and his forces encouraged a group of angry Palestinians to go and effectively poke Israel with a stick.
Even more curious than the fact that yesterday, hoards of protesters could find their way to the border without intervention from the Syrian police, is the fact that today those protesters are being sent home.
Clearly, the Syrian authorities could have stopped yesterday’s protests quite easily (Assad’s forces have shown themselves quite capable of stamping out dissent). Surprising, then, that they didn’t.
At this point, it’s still only speculation. But if you were in public relations, looking to advise a dictator who had allegedly authorised the butchering of 1,200 citizens in the space of three months, what would your suggestion be? Bearing in mind the West had already put their money where their mouth was with another despotic regime not far away.
At a guess, I’d say it would be to change the story. Find a new headline. Distract the media and take the heat off.
And what better way to do that than blame everyone’s favourite bogeyman.
Israel is responsible for the deaths, as any state is responsible for enemy casualties during a war. But Israel didn’t send those protesters there; in fact, Israel repeatedly warned that doing so would be viewed as a provocation, just as Britain would be wary of an invading army of angry Frenchmen approaching the border.
As I said, what happened was horrific. Not least, because imagine living in a country under a leader who would deliberately and willingly send his countrymen to a situation which could only ever end badly.