Jewish Journal


January 30, 2013

Syrian Concerns and Obama’s Handiest Tool




Yesterday I said that certain coalition-building spins should not be believed. Today, reports "that four Israeli planes entered Lebanese air space" might make people wonder about the seriousness of the Israel-Syria situation. I'd recommend reading Amos Harel for more insight about Israel's worries. I'd also say – following my article yesterday – that two things can be right and don't necessarily contradict each other:

  1. Israel is really worried about the Syria situation and is making sure to contain it and not let it deteriorate.
  2. Netanyahu has political interest in putting Syria on top of the agenda as coalition talks begin – he has much more leverage over potential partners when security matters are at stake.


The worries of different countries and different leaders about the Syria situation are of different nature. One should not confuse the horrifying reports of mass killings in Aleppo – "at least 71 bodies were found by a river in the western Bustan al-Qasr district… most had their hands tied behind their backs and gunshot wounds to the head" – with the reports about Syria's diminishing control over its stocks of chemical weapons.

One shouldn't be confused because while the former are presently more ghastly – they are also the ones that the outer world can ignore. In fact, it's been ignoring them for two years until now, and probably intends to keep ignoring them.

The later reports, those concerning matters of strategic nature, are the ones that can ignite the actions of outside forces, be it Israel or other countries. That is, because as terrible as the horrors of Syria might be, other countries apparently aren't willing to take huge risks to save Syrian lives. They will take great risks to avoid a situation where terrorists put their hands on chemical weapons- because they know that these terrorists will not be confining their activities to Syrian territory – and have very serious incentives to try and make use of it in other places and regions.


Yes, the Obama administration and the Israeli government have their many differences of opinion, but when it comes to policy concerning the dangers in Syria- dangers of strategic nature (not the danger to Syrian lives)- Israel can easily go back to its traditional role as the US' best tool of crisis management in this region.

In 2006, when Israel was battling Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Bush administration was somewhat disappointed with the way the war was being handled. This "set off rumors about American disenchantment with Israel as a strategic asset". But later, when Israel (reportedly) destroyed a Syrian nuclear site it was hailed by administration officials for being such an asset. "Given that Iran and its allies in the greater Middle East represent clear and present dangers to U.S. interests"- wrote Robert Blackwill and Walter Slocombe in their book 'Israel: A Strategic Ally for the United States' (Washington Institute)- "Israel’s military - the most powerful in the region - plays an important role in addressing those threats posed especially by Syria, Hizballah, and to some extent, Iran itself. The ability of the Israeli armed forces to deter the military ambitions of destabilizing regional actors promotes American national interests because it presents our common enemies with an additional - and potent - military capability to resist their aggression".

This was true when the two wrote their manuscript in 2001 and is true today, as current and future events in Syria might prove.

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