Usually distant from the rest of the world, even Australia's apathy is dwindling. The continent which made "no worries" a world-famous phrase is starting to worry, and even lose patience. Australian public opinion, seemingly so detached, is also wondering what else needs to happen to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
I was invited to Melbourne this week by the United Israel Appeal for a series of lectures. Many issues were up for discussion: the Arab Spring, Israel's image in the world, even domestic Israeli social and political matters. There was time at the end to field questions. They all focused around one topic: How long will Assad survive? The audience, which is very pro-Israel here, couldn't understand how Egypt's Mubarak, Tunisia's Ben-Ali, Libya's Gadhafi and Yemen's Saleh were ousted so quickly from power, while the butcher from Damascus still sends his killers on murderous missions unimpeded, all the while displaying complete disregard for the U.N. observers stationed in his country. It is surreal for a world that strives to be global, but for us, in our difficult neighborhood, it is just reality.
The Syrian National Council replaced its chairman with a Kurdish activist, Abdel Basset Sayda, to lead the struggle against the Assad regime. The Kurds, unlike the Palestinians, have never been awarded the same type of attention by the world. Perhaps it is a matter of interests? Perhaps it's a matter of hypocrisy? Maybe it comes down to better public relations? All of the above are correct.
The divided Syrian opposition must unite before it does anything else if it wants to succeed. It has a goal, but still lacks resources — as well as a plan for a shared future. Syria's post-Assad future is still far from clear.
The world is stuttering. Market collapses in Europe are of much greater concern than atrocities taking place in our region. Iran continues its nuclear project unhindered, Assad is slaughtering his people and Hezbollah is still making threats and arming itself. In the face of this axis of evil, meanwhile, the world struggles to find a common language. What's worse is that the Obama administration is suddenly allowing Russian to make a comeback as a dominant language on the global stage.
Russia continues to play a key role in the Syrian crisis. Moscow has indeed taken a step forward and is now prepared to see Assad go, but only on the condition that it be the will of the Syrian people. Yet again, Moscow it is playing for time. The Russians have requested more talks on the Syrian issue. They have no organizational dissent.
Later this month Moscow will host another round of negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. These talks can be perpetuated indefinitely. It is likely that these talks will yield the same results as before, thus enabling the façade to continue. Moscow, just to remind you, has already used its veto twice to block resolutions submitted by the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to condemn Assad's oppressive regime.
The two horrific massacres in the span of two weeks have led Washington and its partners in the West to try impose newer, more prohibitive sanctions against Damascus, perhaps even including military intervention. Without Russian consent this is virtually impossible. Moscow, for its part, is not easily relinquishing its last remaining ally in the Middle East, not even at the expense of children's lives in Houla, el-Kuber and who knows where else.
It seems therefore that we are left with two riddles: What should be done about the murderous regime in Syria, and how can Russian President Vladimir Putin be influenced to change course?
Regarding the former, the world is afraid of Syria disintegrating and the consequences it would have on its population. Such a collapse could be even more violent than what we saw in Libya. The regional consequences are also expected to be more severe. Assad knows that we know this, and continues to play that card. These most recent massacres require the international community to take that risk.
In the modern era, the existence of online social networks means that every atrocity reaches every home across the globe. It's impossible to say "I didn't know" and to be indifferent. From here we must ask not whether it's worth toppling Assad, but whether the word "morality" will continue to have any meaning at all in regards to international relations, if Assad is allowed to stay in power.
The Russian question isn't simple either. Moscow, thanks to Assad, once again feels its Soviet power for the first time since 1991, when the USSR crumbled. Putin, of course, has his own interests. In his mind, openly supporting Assad and his patron in Tehran is merely a part of the Cold War, which has reappeared without us noticing. The players are the same, they just changed their names.
The axis of evil has never vanished and Assad is an integral part of it. This is why we should hope to see him pack his bags for exile in Moscow or Tehran. In a normal world, we would suggest only one destination for him — because Tehran, too, is supposed to be a dangerous place. In a normal world.