Syria's Friends, Not Brutality, Keeping Assad in Power

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JERUSALEM - To date, more than 7,500 people have died fighting for democracy in Syria.

For a full year, President Bashar Assad has ruthlessly crushed those opposing him. Assad has used tanks, mortars and heavy artillery against his own people.

Witnesses in the city of Homs accused his army of merciless attacks.

"I've worked in many war zones. I've never seen or been in shelling like this," said a photographer on assignment from the United Kingdom.

"I'm an ex-artillery gunner so I can kind of follow the patterns. They're systematically moving through neighborhoods with munitions that are used for battlefields," the photographer noted. "This is used in a couple of square kilometers."

Unlike other dictators in the Middle East, Assad may just survive.

"Assad has a good chance of coming through this unless the international attitude changes. For as long as the West wants to have this kind of hands off approach to the uprising -- Okay that's up to the West," said Jonathan Spyer, author of the book, The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict.

"The result of that, and we should be aware of this, could well mean that this very brutal Iran-led dictatorship manages to stay in power as a result of some pretty dreadful acts against its own people," he continued.

Some members of the U.S. Congress are seeking military intervention against the Assad regime. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said forces like the Free Syrian Army need help.

"The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north through air strikes on Assad's forces," McCain said.

So far, the Obama administration and other leaders oppose military action, pushing instead for sanctions.

Spyer, who has spent time in Syria, told CBN News that it's not Assad's brutality keeping him in power. It's his friends.

"When Assad got into trouble, the Iranians did not begin pressing the dictator to reform or to step down. On the contrary, they are backing him all the way," he explained.

Russia and China also offered a hand by blocking United Nations attempts to sanction the Syrian government.

"In a certain sense there's a good breakdown of roles. The Iranians and Hezbollah are there on the ground. The Russians and the Chinese are ensuring diplomatic cover," Spyer said.

Spyer told CBN News the Syrian rebels he met are both optimistic and realistic.

"There's kind of a strange combination when you speak to these guys. On the one hand there's a kind of like optimism, in spite of it all, that they're going to win, that they'll go on to the end," he said.

"When you actually get down to specifics, you know, they are quite realistic and they realize they may very well be on their own in this," Spyer added.

In the meantime, Spyer said he doesn't believe Syria is a threat to Israel. As long as Assad is trying to hold on to power, he will probably leave Israel alone.

--Originally aired on March 9, 2012.

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