The must-read secret Pentagon memo on Syria’s 1982 massacre.

BY TOM BLANTON | SEPTEMBER 21, 2012

Cut the dates from this just-declassified Defense Intelligence Agency paper and it reads like an analysis of the current 18-month-old Syrian civil war, as if it could have gone to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta yesterday. But DIA analysts wrote this paper in April 1982, 30 years ago — just after the horrific Hama massacre by then-Syrian leader Hafez Assad, who used jets and artillery to level the city and wipe out a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising.

About the Hama massacre, the DIA analysts concluded:

The Muslim Brotherhood leadership was fully aware that they had the Assad regime in a ‘no win’ situation over Hama. If Assad had not acted forcefully against Hama, the rebellion might have spread to other cities which in turn might have led to a full-scale rebellion. Assad’s liberal use of artillery in breaking the resistance in Hama served notice to other cities that he has both the will and the means to retain power. By the same token, however, the government’s actions have appalled and sickened a wide spectrum of Syrian society. Nonetheless, Assad’s strategy continues to be based on the realization that most Syrians, regardless of their differences with the present government, do not want the Muslim Brotherhood in power, although they would undoubtedly prefer one dominated by Sunni Muslims [instead of Assad’s Alawite sect].

The one factual discrepancy in this DIA report, compared to what we know now, is the casualty count on Hama. The document says 2,000 dead, but independent observers (ranging from the British journalist Robert Fisk, who visited Hama, to the Syrian Human Rights Committee) determined after the fact that between 20,000 and 40,000 died at Hama — all killed in the month of February 1982, within just a few weeks.

The Syrian civil war currently raging has only now reached that level of casualties, nearly 30,000 total deaths over 18 months, according to the Centre for Documentation of Violations in Syria and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. August 2012 was the bloodiest month, with more than 5,000 deaths. Most of the Syrian dead are civilian; the total includes about 3,000 fighters on each side.

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