Only in Israel large majority for US attack on Syria
Articles from Gideon Levy, Chemi Shalev and Barak Ravid. Plus in final Note, Israel and France on Syria
It’s impossible to claim that the United States, a country responsible for the most bloodshed since World War II in Asia, South America and the Middle East, is driven by moral considerations.
By Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz
September 01, 2013
An exercise in honesty (and double standards): What would happen If Israel were to use chemical weapons? Would the United States also say to attack it? And what would happen if the United States itself used such measures? True, Israel would never use weapons of mass destruction, although they are in its arsenal, except under very extreme circumstances. But it has already used weapons prohibited by international law – white phosphorous and flechette rounds against a civilian population in Gaza, and cluster munitions in Lebanon – and the world did not raise a finger. And few words are needed to describe the weapons of mass destruction used by the United States, from the nuclear bombs in Japan to napalm in Vietnam.
But Syria, of course is a different matter. After all, no one can seriously think that an American attack on the President Bashar Assad regime stems from moral considerations. Some 100,000 killed in that unfortunate country did not coax the world into action, and only the report of 1,400 killed by chemical weapons – which has not yet been conclusively proven – are rousing the world’s salvation army to act.
Neither can anyone suspect that most Israelis who support an attack – 67 percent, according to a survey by the daily Israel Hayom – are motivated by concern for the well-being of Syria’s citizens. In perhaps the only country in the world where a majority of public opinion supports an attack, the guiding principle is completely foreign: Strike the Arabs; it doesn’t matter why, it just matters how much – a lot.
Demonstrators in New York take part in a protest calling for no military attack on Syria, August 29th. Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/ AP
Neither can anyone seriously think that the United States is a “moral superpower,” as Ari Shavit defined it in these pages (August 29). The country responsible for the most bloodshed since World War II – some say as many as 8 million dead at its hands – in Southeast Asia, South America, Afghanistan and Iraq – cannot be considered a “moral power.” Neither can the country in which a quarter of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated; where the percentage of prisoners is greater than in China and Russia; and where 1,342 people have been executed since 1976. Even Shavit’s statement “The new international order in the wake of World War II was meant to ensure that … the horrific scenario of death by gassing would not be repeated,” is disconnected from reality. In Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda and Congo, as in Syria, this baseless claim can only arouse a bitter smile.
The attack on its way will be Iraq II. The United States – which was never punished for the lies of Iraq I and the hundreds of thousands who died in vain in that war – says a similar war should be launched. Once again without a smoking gun, with only partial evidence, and with red lines that President Barack Obama himself drew, and now he is obliged to keep his word. In Syria, a cruel civil war is underway that the world must try to stop; the American attack will not do it.
Protest in front of the White House, Washington DC, Aug. 31st. Photo from Mehr News Agency
Reports from Syria are apparently mainly tendentious. No one knows what exactly is going on, or the identity of the good guys and the bad guys, if they can be thus defined. We should listen to the sharp words of a nun from Syria, Sister Agnes-Mariam de la Croix, who complained to me over the weekend – from the Jerusalem monastery where she is staying on her way back from Malaysia to Syria – about the world press. Sister Agnes-Mariam described the picture differently than most: There are some 150,000 foreign jihadists in Syria, she says, and they are responsible for most of the atrocities. The Assad regime is the only one that can stop them, and the only thing the world must do is stop the flow of fighters and arms to them. “I don’t understand what the world wants. To help Al-Qaida? To establish a jihadist state in Syria?” This mother superior, whose monastery is located along the road from Damascus to Homs, is certain that an American strike will only strengthen the jihadists. “That is what the world wants? Another Afghanistan?”
Perhaps the world knows what it wants, perhaps it doesn’t. But one thing now seems clear: another American attack of choice could become another disaster.
Israel’s new separation fence on border with Syria
Obama’s decision to seek authorization for military attack could humiliate him or strengthen his hand, but the Administration may urge Israel-supporters to get off the fence.
By Chemi Shalev, Ha’aretz
September 01, 2013
UPDATE: The White House has sent Congress a draft resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria, Politico reported.
United States President Barack Obama on Saturday made his most convincing and impassioned argument to date about the need for an American military attack against Syria, as he was consigning it in practice to limbo, if not oblivion. The regime in Damascus heaved a sigh of relief while officials in Jerusalem pulled their hair in exasperation, though both reactions could prove premature.
By asking for authorization from Congress, Obama was transferring the question of the American response to the August 21 chemical carnage in Damascus from backroom strategic and diplomatic deliberations to the polarized, rough-and-tumble arena of open-air politics. He decided to share the onus of responsibility for dealing with what he described as the Syrian “assault on human dignity” with the representatives and senators who have been incessantly sniping at him without paying a political price.
I dare you, Obama is challenging his critics, to smear yourselves and America with the stain of isolationism and timidity.
Obama decided on this course when he found himself – through much fault of his own – with none of the prerequisites of international backing, public support or constitutional legitimacy that he had once chastised George W. Bush for ignoring. “The president does not have the power under the constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama said in 2007, as he waded into the complex and historic tug of war between the president and Congress over the power to wage wars.
Obama is obviously taking a risk that he will suffer a political defeat that will be even more humiliating than the one inflicted on David Cameron by the British House of Commons. But he could also be rewarded with a victory that would give him much more public and political backing – and thus greater military and diplomatic freedom of action – than he seems to have now.
Obama may have hemmed and hawed his way to this juncture – especially when compared to the rhetorical brilliance and conviction shown on Friday by Secretary of State John Kerry in his presentation of the damning evidence against the Assad regime – but political campaigns, contrary to military incursions, are the president’s forte. He may be reluctant and hesitant when it comes to Syrian generals, but he is spoiling for a fight and full of surprises when it comes to his political rivals.
The stage has thus been set for a riveting political and public debate that will pit the two parties against each other and each within itself. It will mix and match the political with the constitutional, the strategic and the expedient, the loftily ideological and the blatantly personal. Instead of the war epic that everyone expected, a political thriller of high drama a la “House of Cards” will be played out before the American audience.
Democrats will be torn between their liberal idealism and their loyalty to the president, Republicans between their hawkish patriotism and their burning wish to cripple Obama, regardless of cost. If polarization prevails, the Democrat-controlled Senate will consent, the Republican-dominated House will oppose, Obama will have no mandate to act but he will be given a convenient scapegoat to blame. If lawmakers are allowed to vote their conscience, the campaign will see strange bedfellows and peculiar coalitions as leftist pacifists team up with Tea Party isolationists against moderate centrists and conservatives on both sides of the aisle.
In this showdown, Israel and the lobby that supports it may find themselves suddenly embroiled. Both have been careful to steer clear of taking sides and to appear neutral for fear of fueling Iraq War, Walt and Mearsheimer-style attacks that Israel and its doers in Washington were pushing America to go to war. But it is surely no coincidence that both Obama and Kerry have made a point of reiterating time and time again that in advocating a strong response to Syria, the U.S. is looking out for Israel and its interests, by preventing the proliferation of chemical weapons and by sending a strong signal to Iran about its nuclear plans.
Supporters of Israel will likely be told that at this critical juncture, neutrality is a luxury that neither the lobby nor the Administration can afford. Time to put up or shut up, get off the fence and spend some of the precious political capital that Israel supporters have amassed in order to fight in the Washington trenches for something that most Israelis contend is crucial to their national interests.
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Protest march in Boston, USA, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. Photo by Michael Dwyer/ AP
The president’s sluggish advance toward military action in Syria opens up a possibility for a diplomatic solution to the crisis that, albeit rather unrealistic at the moment, might avert war without anyone losing face.
By Barak Ravid, Ha’aretz
September 1, 2013
The primary significance of U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to ask Congress to approve military action against Syria represents a new window of opportunity for resolving the Syria crisis. Instead of preparing to launch Tomahawk missiles, the U.S. will prepare its pens and draft agreements.
The U.S. Congress is expected to convene on September 9, more than a week away. Writing a bill and holding preliminary talks ahead of a vote will take at least a few more days. A special session of Congress could theoretically be convened, but it’s not at all clear that it will come to that.
The world’s attention will shift from the decision-making process in Washington to the UN Security Council and the G20 summit set to take place in St. Petersburg this week.
Over the past few days, discussions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have been completely paralyzed. While the United States, Britain and France are trying to push forward a resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons on his own people and approving military action against Syria, Russia and China have been blocking any such efforts. The time bought by Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a military strike will be used to attempt to thaw the diplomatic freeze.
As for the G20 summit, it is expected to take place in the shadow of the shaky relationship between the United States and Russia, which became more tense because of Russia’s protection of Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency who is accused of espionage. Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum prompted Obama to cancel his planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although the two sides may now be interested in discussing the Syria issue.
Both Obama and Putin have an interest in finding a diplomatic solution. Obama is not enthusiastic about attacking Syria. He did give a passionate speech about the need to hold the Assad regime accountable for the “assault on human dignity” and uphold the international prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. But he also made a point of saying there was no rush, that an attack “will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”
From Putin’s perspective, a diplomatic solution in which he is involved will bolster Russia’s international standing and, more important, keep it from being humiliated. A massive U.S. attack on Assad would show the world that U.S. military technology is superior to that which Russia has supplied Assad, as well as further weakening Putin’s Damascus ally and showing the world that Russia doesn’t hold much sway.
How would a diplomatic solution look? Members of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and various other foreign ministries in the West have begun to examine a scenario that seems a little unrealistic but is a genuine possibility. In this scenario, the United States and Russia would work together to write a UN Security Council resolution that would call on Assad to transfer any chemical weapons in his possession to Russian forces, along with UN inspectors. The chemical weapons would be removed from the country or destroyed on Syrian soil.
At the same time, an international peace council would meet in Geneva, in keeping with a U.S.-Russia plan that had been in the making for several months. The council would focus on reaching an agreement to end the civil war in Syria and on shaping a new political arrangement that would prevent radical Islamists associated with Al-Qaida from taking over.
The chances that such a plan would meet with success are slim. Nonetheless, if the United States and Russia seize this opportunity, war could be averted. On the other hand, if such efforts fail, Obama will be able to take the military route with extensive international support.
Note: France, Israel, Syria, Iran according to the BBC ‘somewhere between 45% and 55% of the French people favour punishing Assad’. The proposal for punishing Pres. Assad came from Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who had talks with PM Netanyahu last Sunday, August 25th.
PM Netanyahu meets with French FM Fabius
Media Release, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel
August 25th, 2013
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday afternoon (25 August 2013) with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and said at the start of the meeting:
“I know that France shares our interest in the ongoing events in Syria that are tragic. I think what is going on there is a crime committed by the Syrian regime against its own people. It’s truly shocking. And these atrocities must stop.
I have to say, however, that Assad’s regime is not acting alone. Iran, and Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria.
In fact, Assad’s regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran’s testing ground. Now the whole world is watching. Iran is watching and it wants to see what would be the reaction on the use of chemical weapons.
What we see in Syria is how extremist regimes have no reservations whatsoever about using these weapons even when they use it against innocent civilians, against their own people. This demonstrates, yet again, that we simply cannot allow the world’s most dangerous regimes to acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons. In the end, the extremists use these weapons. So we must prevent them from having these weapons.
I speak here of course in the context of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran must not be allowed to get nuclear weapons. What is happening in Syria, simply demonstrates what will happen if Iran gets even deadlier weapons.
I think the situation in Syria also exposes another truth, and that is that there is something very deep and very broad in the turmoil in the Middle East. We see the entire region from Morocco to Afghanistan in turmoil, in convulsion, in instability. And that’s an endemic instability that is not rooted in this or that conflict but in the rejection of modernity, in the rejection of moderation, in the rejection of progress, in the rejection of political solutions.
This is in fact the core of the problem in the Middle East. It’s something that threatens everyone, threatens moderate regimes, threatens Israel, threatens the West and threatens all those who don’t believe in the doctrinaire dogmas that guide the extremists.
I say that because for too long people believed that the root cause of this instability in the Middle East was the Palestinian-Israeli problem. It is not the root cause; it’s one of its results. It’s one of the results of the regional turmoil, and in fact it is merely a manifestation of one of its many problems.
If we have peace with the Palestinians, the centrifuges will not stop spinning in Iran, the turmoil will not stop in Syria, the instability in North Africa will not cease, the attacks on the West will not cease.
We want peace for its own sake. We want peace because we want peace with our Palestinian neighbors, because we want to live in peace, and anybody who’s been at war know the consequences of not having peace. But this will not put an end to the region’s problems. They are far too deep, they are far too many, they require much more complex solutions, but they require solutions.
This is something that I would like to talk to you, about all these things: our pursuit of peace with the Palestinians, the situation in Syria, the rampant instability in the region and above all, a goal we share closely – that is how to make sure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. All these and many others, I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to discuss so welcome to Jerusalem.”