Travelling to Beirut from Damascus via Homs in the eighties was a pretty hair-raising experience. For a while the only reasonably secure way of reaching Lebanon’s capital was starting from Syria’s capital.
The journey we took was at its most surreal when “encouraged’ to sing songs at the border crossing – as a humiliating penance for failing to produce $100 for its guards – and then being “invited” to camp down there as dozens of Syrian rocket-launchers roared freely into their neighbour’s country through the night.
Returning through the Bekaa Valley one evening a few days later it got even weirder. Once again we enjoyed the hospitality of Syrian forces – this time intercepted at gunpoint and driven to a Damascus barracks before being released unharmed at dawn.
What were we thinking? Your author (tall bloke, far left) with Euro student union group in The Levant, 1982
That’s the closest I have been to Syrian military hardware. Millions have experienced it even more closely and brutally, especially in recent years.
So what special insight do I have for the country’s current troubles whose bloody and humanitarian reverberations are so affecting us?
Well, none really. Other than a growing feeling that, to defeat the greater evil of ISIS, we need some kind of temporary accommodation with Bashar al-Assad’s horrid regime which – by the way – we should have confronted properly in 2013.
Indiscriminate barrel-bombing by his vile henchmen accounts for 95% of the country’s recent destruction. That has led to 330,000 dead, seven million people internally displaced and five million fleeing as refugees in the last five years.
Not a good guy then. But in the league table of evil he comes a few rungs below ISIS whose horrors my vocabulary is too limited to describe.
I confess to applauding the regime’s retaking of ancient Palmyra. And now I want it to keep going. Onto Raqqa and anywhere else where the caliphate reigns.
The current US-Russian led Geneva-brokered “cessation of hostilities”, which excludes ISIS and Nusra Front, has enabled the regime to direct its firepower on their forces. Can we help them do that by sharing intelligence? Co-ordinating our air strikes with their ground troops even?
Let’s keep that accommodation going while the talks continue to create a diverse, tolerant and democratic opposition to Assad and ISIS. Pipedream maybe.
And if the price is to allow Assad to have some role in rebuilding Syria without a referral to The Hague, then we might just need to bite that bullet before too many more Syrians are shot by one.
[Got that off my chest as the third introductory blog on my three chosen subjects…..back to sport and business matters now!]