Syria: New Mideast Abyss for US?

Syria: New Mideast Abyss for US?

The Syrian civil war is tangential to our issues, which center upon Israel and a two-state agreement with the Palestinians.  But the civil war has been spilling over Syria’s borders, occasionally impacting Israel as well, as Israelis anxiously prepare for the possible consequences of a US-led attack with a renewed distribution of gas masks while debating the merits of Assad’s fall versus the “devil we know.”  And Israelis must endure the twisted logic of their enemies in the neighborhood, as threats fly from Iran, Syria and Lebanon of attacking Israel in retaliation for actions by the US and other powers.

Israelis try out gas masks as war threatens.

By deciding to go to a Congress that is closely divided within both parties for approval on this matter, Pres. Obama has delayed and possibly thwarted his own plan, which he seems to lack confidence in anyway. In the interest of democracy, and perhaps Constitutionally, this was the right decision. Whether this is a good thing for US foreign policy depends upon what Obama actually intends as an appropriate military response to Assad’s latest atrocity.

Bernard Avishai has written an astute critical analysis of US options, “Sending A Message To Whom?, published also in Open Zion.  Here’s my paraphrase/summary of his view:

The only military intervention by the US and others that can make a difference on the ground is to degrade Assad’s air force and other heavy weaponry.  But since the risks of any military intervention are enormous, what’s the point of a limited punitive strike that does nothing to impact the civil war but incurs a range of dangers for expanding the violence, nevertheless?  In the end, Avishai advises an international diplomatic effort for some kind of negotiated agreement, with the US enlisting the Saudis and Arab Gulf states to restrain and shepherd the opposition, while the Russians do something similar to cajole the Assad regime. 

Other reflections on this crisis include this letter to the editor, published in the NY Times last week, from our friend, Aviva Cantor, urging a massive non-violent humanitarian effort before doing anything else:  

To the Editor: 

Before the United States dives into another intractable intervention, we should take a small but significant step into the shark-infested Syrian waters with a major humanitarian action:
We should develop regular and reliable contact with the field hospitals and provide large amounts of high-quality medical supplies to them and to the victims, both of the chemical attacks and the bombings, through airdrops into carefully pinpointed areas.
We should also fly in helicopters to airlift the most life-threatened victims to either a hospital ship or to the closest hospitals in countries bordering Syria. Ambulances should also be stationed at the Israeli, Lebanese and Turkish borders to transport the seriously wounded to the closest hospitals in these countries. Priority in these evacuations should be given to children.
These actions would not only save lives and demonstrate America’s humanitarian concerns and its recognition of the urgent need to address them, but also serve to “test the waters” to determine if military intervention is necessary, possible and conducive to success.
New York, Aug. 27, 2013

The US and its allies have been contributing some of this kind of humanitarian assistance already, albeit inadequate to the scale of suffering.  In my view, the most effective humanitarian strategy would be to establish safe havens for masses of Syrians fleeing the conflict.  But if these were to be established on Syrian territory, they would have to be defended, which at the very least would mean the use of US and allied air power.   
The US and the West does seem to have missed the boat in not discreetly arming the Free Syrian Army from its inception about two years ago (I hope that Hussein Ibish is correct that “It’s Not ‘Too Late’…”).   In the meantime, extremist Jihadi groups, armed by rich Saudis and other Gulf Arabs, have moved into the vacuum created by US/Western inaction to apparently become the most effective fighting forces within the opposition.    

Curiously, the most hawkish statement I’ve seen comes from a writer for Israel’s far-left Daam Workers Party, arguing in its magazine, Challenge, that “Assad Must Go.” 
By | 2013-09-02T10:53:00-04:00 September 2nd, 2013|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Anonymous September 2, 2013 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Seems like Avishai (and Glass) basically agree with that insidious anti-Israel bunch at the International Crisis Group:

    “Whether or not the U.S. chooses to launch a military offensive, its responsibility should be to try to optimize chances of a diplomatic breakthrough. This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest – rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate.”

    Perhaps they’re better able just to avoid “nuanced distortions” on topics other than Israel.


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