Monday, May 06, 2013

Arlene Kushner on Reactions To Israel's Attack On Syria -- And Obama's Next Move

From Arlene Kushner
May 6, 2012

Following Through

The original expectation that Syria would not retaliate for Israel's hits inside of that country appears to be holding true:
A Syrian government official has indicated that Syria would not be responding "immediately:  "Syria will respond to the Israeli aggression and will choose the moment to do so. It might not be immediate because Israel now is on high alert.  We will wait but we will answer."
It has been suggested that statements by Israel regarding the need to prevent Iranian weaponry from making its way to Hezbollah provides a possible out for Syria. While indeed, the strikes were on Syrian soil, they weren't intended as attacks on Syria -- which would require a response. 
The situation with Hezbollah is somewhat more complex, and there has certainly been some saber-rattling, with talk about responding to aggression.  However, according to YNet:
"Lebanese media published Monday that certain circles within Hezbollah say that there is a need to wait before setting any position beyond condemnation."
Said one operative who was cited: 
"'The situation is sensitive and there cannot be any quick steps against the aggression due to the sensitivity of the matter, and since a response is related to contacts and consultations between Syria, Iran. Hezbollah and Russia." 
Not certain how significant this is, but I found some of the Times of Israel reporting on the Syrian response to the attacks, from a purely non-governmental perspective, to be interesting.
Yesterday I had written that even among people you might intuitively think would be glad that Israel had hit, the need for a politically correct stance was so strong that there was criticism across the board.  But the Times has found exceptions to this:
"Israel is still my enemy -- but when my enemy does a neat job, I admit it," wrote one commentator cited by the Times. 
Another wrote: 
"I’m sorry, but I can’t make up my mind between the Syrian army and the Israeli. The latter never harmed me, but the Arab inside me hates it; whereas everything inside me hates the former."
Dare we derive even a modicum of hope for the future from such messages?
Repeatedly I'm seeing analysis suggesting that what Israel has done puts pressure on Obama to also act in Syria.  And it is this that I would like to focus on here.
Last Thursday, in "The Flip Side," I wrote:
"Israeli interests here are not the same as US interests.  This is a critical point...the Israeli red line is not Assad's use of such weapons against his people but the transfer of...weapons to terrorist groups that might use them against us...." 
I expressed confidence then that Israel would act in this regard as it was perceived necessary, and, indeed, that is precisely what happened.
But Obama?  Precisely what would be his goal, were he to decide to act in a significant way now? 
Would he send in major contingents of ground troops to secure all non-conventional weapons identified by intelligence and currently controlled by Assad troops -- because his goal is to prevent the use of gas? 
Would he seek to bomb Assad sufficiently so that he would be deterred from or rendered incapable of continuing to kill his own people -- because that would be his essential goal? 
That would mean, essentially, taking Assad down.  And if he were to do that, what would he then need to do to assure that radicals didn't seize control?
My point here, which is essentially the point I made last week, is that there may be little Obama can do now that would be constructive.  Even, I wrote last week, providing armaments to non-jihadist rebels from the Free Syria Army might simply prolong the war without providing this Army the means to genuinely secure the country.  They are fighting a force that is backed by Iran and Hezbollah and Russia.
What is more, the nature of the rebel forces has changed over time, as they have become infiltrated by Islamists.  Thus, if assistance via weaponry and training did make it possible for rebel forces to take down Assad, the net result would not be positive.  It is reasonable to expect that the radicals would gain control, probably even seizing weapons meant for secular rebels.
I am not trying to give Obama a pass here.  I think he blew it big time and that he has a great deal to answer for.  Had he acted decisively early in the civil war, providing significant support to secular rebels, the outcome might have been reasonably constructive. But he dithered, and dithered...and we see what the situation is now.
Thus I suggest that, at this point, the pundits who say Obama should finally DO something should first analyze precisely what they think he should be doing and what outcome they might expect from this action.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah has written a briefing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs entitled "Stalemate in the Syrian Civil War" (emphasis added):
"On the second anniversary of the Syrian civil war, those who hurriedly announced the demise of the Assad regime realize that the existing power structures are strong enough to endure a war of attrition with the rebels...

"The coalition of minorities around Assad has not disintegrated and the pillars of the regime remain in place. Assad has proved that he has the resolve to conduct effective campaigns against the rebels in a very hostile international environment, while continuing to rule and provide for the daily life of the population under his control...

"The United States and Europe face an impossible dilemma: on the one hand, they would like Assad to fall; on the other, they do not want an Islamist regime that is worse than the ones that succeeded Mubarak in Egypt and Ben-Ali in Tunisia...

"The same dilemma confronts Israel. On the one hand, Jerusalem would like to see an end to the Iranian-led 'axis of evil.' On the other, the prospect of a militant Islamic regime, linked to al-Qaeda and possessing the Syrian military arsenal, is a nightmare Jerusalem cannot live with..."
This truly is a "no-win" situation.  There will be no "Spring" in Syria, with democracy and freedom bursting out all over.  There will not even be relative stability for some long time to come.
What we need to keep in mind is that some possible resolutions are decidedly more horrendous than others.  Before there is intervention, all parameters and all potential consequences must be seriously considered.  As in medicine, the by-word must be, "First do no harm."  
I recommend "The Fourth Great War," an incisive analysis on this subject, with a different slant, by Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center (emphasis added):
She tells us that in this war we are confronting a battle of "Sunni expansionists vs. Shiite expansionists":
"Neither is an appealing partner for the United States in the region, and neither has a natural claim on our politics or our interests. For reasons having to do with Iran itself, the U.S. will not choose to support Iranian-backed Shiites. However, Sunni expansionists are simply no better; Saudi and Qatari-supported Islamists run from the unacceptable Muslim Brotherhood to the even more unacceptable Wahabis, al Qaeda or Jabhat al Nusra – it is like a choice between cancer and a heart attack.

"...If American policy in Syria seems feckless, it is because it is feckless.

"...The administration's policy on Syria has been a series of visceral reactions to graphic events and horrific casualties, offset by a gigantic distaste for confrontation. Without a definition of America's strategic interests, such as a defeat for both Iran and the Sunni jihadists, the chance remains that America might be dragged into another front in the Fourth Great War. A war in which neither side is our friend."
Hopefully, onward in my next posting to a host of other issues.
But here, please, take a look at this unusual article.  It tells a great deal about who we are, and who the Arabs in Gaza are: Disabled Gaza toddler lives in Israeli hospital
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.

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