This is part bluff, part belief that Iran would come to his aid if the west decided it had a “responsibility to protect” Syrian civilians.
In his first interview with a Western journalist since Syria’s seven-month uprising began, President Assad told The Sunday Telegraph that intervention against his regime could cause “another Afghanistan”.
Western countries “are going to ratchet up the pressure, definitely,” he said. “But Syria is different in every respect from Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen. The history is different. The politics is different.
“Syria is the hub now in this region. It is the fault line, and if you play with the ground you will cause an earthquake … Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?
“Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region.”
President Assad admitted that “many mistakes” had been made by his forces in the early part of the uprising, but insisted that only “terrorists” were now being targeted.
“We have very few police, only the army, who are trained to take on al-Qaeda,” he said. “If you sent in your army to the streets, the same thing would happen. Now, we are only fighting terrorists. That’s why the fighting is becoming much less.”
On Friday alone, however, opposition groups claimed that 40 people were killed by the regime, and government troops shelled a district of Homs, a centre of opposition.
If Assad is seeking to divide the west by claiming the protests are staged by terrorists, it won’t do any good. First of all, no one believes him. Secondly, even if it were true, many if not most diplomats at the UN, the EU, and even in America wouldn’t mind seeing the Muslim Brotherhood take over for Assad.
The Christians and Alawite minorities in Syria have every right to fear a Sunni takeover. Despite the apparent secular nature of some of the opposition to Assad, it would be the Islamists – as has happened everywhere else – who would gain the most in Assad’s overthrow.