June 1967: on the eve of the sixth day of the Six Day War, I was the guest of the newly appointed governor of the newly conquered old city of Jerusalem, General Chaim (Vivian) Herzog, later to become president of Israel, who had earned his military spurs as major in the Scots Guard in World War II. Among the guests were Winston Churchill's son Randolph and grandson Winston junior as well as Lady Pamela Berry, wife of the chairman of The Daily Telegraph.
By that evening Egypt's Air Force was destroyed; the Sinai desert occupied by Israel, Jordan's elite troupes -- the Arab Legion -- thoroughly defeated. Only Syria seemed to be unscathed. The steep Golan Heights still menaced the Jewish settlements of Galilee. Suddenly a messenger stormed into the roof restaurant and brought the news that elite units of the Israeli Army had just succeeded in scaling the Golan Heights and defeated the Syrian army. The road to Damascus was open. The Six Day War came to an end.
Syria remained the most implacable foe of the Jewish state. Shaken by internal crises, a junta of military men led by an Air Force officer, Hafiz Assad, seized power and formed the most savage and brutal dictatorship of the Near East.
Tiananmen Square in Beijing is still today a byword for brutality and oppression. The statistics are difficult to confirm but the number of victims is held to be somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000. Serbia's General Mladic has to answer for the murder of 8,000 hostages in Srebrenica. But Hafiz Assad has at least 30,000 human lives on his conscience of whom more than 10,000 were massacred in just one city -- Hama. Compared with China's population of more than one billion, Serbia's 8 million and Syria's 22 million inhabitants, these statistics should speak for themselves.
Assad's son Bashar came to power after the death of an elder brother, and another of his brothers, Maher, is now the commander of the dreaded special units who fight insurgents with unequalled brutality. Carefully organised atrocities like mass rapes, the maiming of women and carefully planned assassinations of children on the part of Syria's Special Commandos of the Secret Police lead one to the terrifying perception that even the worst crimes of SS extermination squads could still be outperformed. If the mass executions of the Third Reich were on an "industrial scale", the crimes of Assad's henchmen are marked by individual examples of sadistic cruelty.
Testimonials from numerous Syrians who escaped the present inferno and are either in Lebanon, Turkey or indeed in Britain tell tales of horror that defy imagination.
The Assad regime plays a very risky game by sending truckloads of Palestinian refugees and other inhabitants of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights to the frontier, driving them through the minefields of no man's land and encouraging them to demonstrate in favour of Israel's withdrawal. These highly dangerous manoeuvres to deflect attention from the internal crisis and simmering revolution in Syria risk the worst possible developments. It should make us think of that fateful date which now is almost more than 100 years behind us in June 1914 when an incident in far-away Sarajevo sparked a world conflagration and millions of dead.