Syria crisis: the view from Israel

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 |  Aviel Schneider

Does an American military strike in Syria even make sense? That is what is currently being debated in Israel.

The situation would be far more simple had US President Barack Obama not publicly threatened American intervention if Syrian dictator Bashar Assad crossed the red line of using chemical weapons.

At the political level, it appears as if Israel and the Jewish Lobby in America are not only supportive of, but actively pushing Obama toward military action. By contrast, European countries are taking a more cautious approach to the situation, citing the mistakes that were made in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Washington feels an obligation to keep its word to Israel, just as the Russians provide Syria with cover. "If we do nothing, we make ourselves implausible to Israel," warned US Senator Robert Mendez.

Jerusalem does not want war with Syria, but without an American response, the US will lose important points in its deterrence strategy in the Middle East. Washington, however, fears that a military strike now could lead to a regional war.

Further complicating the issue is that the Syrian rebels are not, from an Israeli perspective, any better than the Assad regime. Other revolutions across the Middle East in recent years have brought anything but stability. So, both Washington and Jerusalem fear that Assad's fall will not necessarily lead to an optimal outcome. Even if some say Assad must go, defense experts in Jerusalem are warning Israel not to get too visibly involved so as to avoid being accused of luring America into a new war, and thereby providing a pretext for Syrian attacks on the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly inserting his nation into the whole affair for strategic reasons. Moscow and Damascus forged a close relationship 50 years ago when the current Syrian dictator's father, Hafez al-Assad, came to power at the time of the Soviet Union. As Russia enters today's fray, the Arab media is speaking of a new Cold War between Russia and America centered on the Syrian conflict.

Moscow has established itself as a superpower in the Middle East, if nowhere else, and is intent on maintaining that position at any price. That policy encourages the so-called "axis of evil" comprised of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, while at the same time weakening the position of America, which gambled all its political cards in Iraq and Afghanistan and now fear further perceived failure in Syria.

Arab newspapers across the region are poking fun at what they see as Obama's cowardly approach to Syria. This is especially evident in daily political cartoons (pictured above is a cartoon from the Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yum, with caption reading: Obama is an unsuccessful fisherman in the Arab Middle East).

But the situation is no laughing matter for Israel. What is known is that Syria has a massive chemical weapons arsenal. What is also known is that someone in Syria has used those weapons against their own people, and so will certainly not hesitate to use them against the hated "Zionist entity."

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