There was a time in history when planes were a new technology and aerial bombardment of civilian populations was considered an unthinkable barbarity. The bombing of the city of Guernica during the Spanish civil war in 1937, carried out by the German and Italian air forces on behalf of the Spanish nationalist government, was one of the first such atrocities. The figures have been disputed, but at least several hundred people were killed.
The world was shocked, and Guernica became a symbol of the horror of modern warfare. Subsequently, the bombing of cities became a frequent, almost accepted practice, and the carnage of Guernica was dwarfed by far larger and more terrible raids and using more terrible weapons, such as the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose anniversary was marked only a few days ago.
But despite it all, human beings have not lost their compassion and their capacity for outrage. So when the news came on Sunday from Damascus of the latest massacre of civilians — over 80 killed in a market in the suburb of Douma — the world was again sickened by it.
This attack cannot be attributed to so-called collateral damage, civilian casualties inadvertently caused by strikes on a military target. “This is an official massacre that was carried out deliberately,” said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He alleged that warplanes fired a missile at the market, followed by another aimed at people rushing in to help the wounded.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad was accused of targeting civilians to avenge the capture of an army base in the nearby suburb of Harasta the day before.
Such cruelties, which have been perpetrated throughout the four-year Syrian civil war, have again led to calls for the removal of Assad.
Nothing could be more just. Assad has proved himself a ruthless tyrant, willing to use any means to inflict death and destruction on those who oppose him; no cruelty deters him, no appeal of humanity moves him.
Talk of a peace plan for Syria offers some hope that the bloodshed may soon be brought to an end and stability restored.
But when one hears that it is Iran that is brokering a peace plan, hope does not exactly spread its warming glow over the horizon. What kind of peacemaker could Iran possibly be? How can anyone expect that the country which is the leading exporter of regional terrorism will make a trustworthy mediator? And it’s not as if the nuclear deal now before Congress has allayed all suspicions about Iran’s intentions and that it has already attained a new role as an upstanding, peace-loving member of the family of nations.
The moderate Gulf States and Western powers are properly wary of Iran’s role in this, as well as that of Russia, which has also been involved in the talks toward a Syrian peace. They are concerned that it signals Tehran’s growing influence in the region, particularly as economic sanctions are lifted, enabling it to finance the foreign policy objectives which it has made clear the nuclear accord will not affect.
Yet, as Assad’s ally throughout this war, Tehran has his confidence and so may actually be in the best position to persuade him to enter into a peace agreement. As such, no matter how repugnant they both are, some are arguing that there is no other way to a peaceful resolution to the conflict except to deal with them. To date, all efforts to replace Assad with someone or something better have failed.
According to reports, the Iranian plan comprises a four-point initiative to be submitted to the United Nations: an immediate ceasefire, formation of a national unity government, constitutional protection for minorities and supervised elections.
If the formula gains acceptance, which is doubtful, Assad will not be removed. Instead, it will allow him to remain in an arrangement with his bitterest enemies that will be at best extremely tense. Hardly a workable idea.
On the other hand, eliminating or curtailing Assad holds out no utopia, either. Those who slaver over the prospect of gaining control over more Syrian territory — the likes of Islamic State and various jihadi groups — bring their own brand of brutality with them. While they are happy to avail themselves of high-tech weaponry, they are partial to the old-time religion of swords and beheadings.
Certainly, we cannot put any trust in Tehran or the Kremlin or the United Nations. We put our trust only in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that ultimately the empires of evil will be removed from the earth.