March 3, 2013 | 2:37 pm
Posted by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
What would you do if I told you Hezbullah was multiplying its strength? If international jihadists from across the world were setting up camp on Israel's border? This is not hypothetical. These situations--both of them--are taking place in Syria right now, as the beleaguered autocratic regime of Bashar el-Assad struggles to contain an armed uprising against his rule.
Earlier this year, a Saudi newspaper reported that over 5,000 Hezbollah fighters were inside Syria fighting for the regime. In November 2012, moderate rebels estimated a membership of 6,000-10,000 people in the Nusra Front, an Al-Queda-linked rebel group that includes many foreign fighters. Both groups get stronger with time. Two weeks ago, Hezbullah fighters seized full control of a chain of Syrian villages, and reports have emerged of Chechen and British jihadists fighting within the Nusra Front.
Hezbullah and the Nusra Front are bitter sectarian enemies. Hezbullah, a Shiite Muslim group, fights to keep Syria in the Iran-led "Shiite axis," while Sunni Muslim extremists in the Nusra Front seek victory for the majority-Sunni opposition. However, both groups share a virulent hatred for Israel. If either group were to establish a permanent foothold in Syria, Israel would eventually come under fire. The resulting attacks would be far more powerful and deadly than those of Hamas or Hezbullah.
Current dynamics in Syria pose a dire threat to Israel. Luckily, the US and its allies can act to alter these dynamics in Israel's favor. The main rebel group in Syria, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), is motivated by democracy rather than nefarious international agendas. In its Proclamation of Principles, it calls for a "free and democratic Syria," pledges to fight terrorism, and "welcomes peace and prosperity across the region." Local elections have already occurred in areas of northern Syria under FSA control.
The FSA is Israel's best hope for continued quiet along the Golan, and is the best hope for Syrians in the long-term. Since October 2011, Syrian pro-democracy activists have called for international military backing against Assad forces, particularly through a no-fly zone and arms for the FSA. In May-June 2012, senior Israeli leaders Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz also urged stronger global support for the rebels. But the United States has yet to take decisive action.
This year's AIPAC conference features 16 sessions on Iran, but just 2 on Syria. If the FSA emerges as the dominant force in Syria, it will prevent regime ally Iran from establishing permanent proxies there. An FSA victory might even doom the Iranian regime; senior Iranian propaganda leader Mehdi Taeb has said, "If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran." For this reason, attendees at this year's AIPAC conference should ask their elected officials to support the Syrian rebels.
Our brothers and sisters in Israel need our help. We should spare no effort to protect them from the threat of hostile governments and dangerous militant groups. By acting to support the FSA in Syria, we can improve the safety of Israelis, and also help Syrians to defend themselves from one of the most vicious regimes in the world.
The Assad regime has already killed over 70,000 civilians in a brutal campaign against its own people. Most of the dead wanted no more than a dignified life, and some were shot down during peaceful protests for exactly that. Israelis are not served to live in a region where such grave injustices are possible. It is time for all American Jews and Israel supporters to ask for military aid to the Syrian opposition--for their sake, as well as ours. The rabbis teach "shtika k'hoda" (being silent is like agreeing). We cannot remain silent at such a crucial turning point in the middle east.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, and is the author of "Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America."
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