Hebrew University Political Science professor Ira Sharkansky evaluates the latest happenings in Israel.
Fri,Dec 6,2013 3 Tevet 5774
This is the season when Israelis combine a wish for a good year along with their conventional greetings at work, on the street, or over the telephone.
This year it is also an occasion for asking if there will be another war.
The answer is almost certainly yes, with the next question being "where?"
Which means, is the impending American attack on Syria something we have to worry about.
Most likely. If not in the short run--assuming that Assad is worried what the IDF might do in response to anything more than a symbolic missile or mortar aimed where it would not do any damage--than more certainly in the long run.
Politicians and military officers are saying that it is unlikely that Assad will risk a serious strike against Israel. However, there have been more anti-missile batteries positioned in the north, a limited call-up of reservists, and a greatly expanded delivery of gas and atropine kits to those still without them. We hear that fighter bombers are patrolling along the northern borders, and sitting in their hangars fully armed.
What we know to date gives us worry that the American strike will be the most thoroughly planned failure in the recent history of warfare. And that Israelis will pay more than their share for Americans violation of that first commandment of public policy--Don't make things worse.
Reports are that the President made more than 80 telephone calls to foreign heads of state in the days prior to the American attack.
That sounds like he learned his lessons well as a political organizer in Chicago--i.e., it helps to cover one's bases, firm up support, answer reservations.
Pity that he didn't learn a bit more basic wisdom on his rapid climb to the presidency. For example, that people attacked tend to fight back; that chains of events coming out of violence are difficult to predict and control; and that a bad but powerful regime may be better than chaos in a country like Syria, especially when religious fanaticism is driving the chaos.
If what we are told to expect proves true, we can expect two or three days of missile and air bombardment beginning Thursday night. We hear that the object is not to destroy Assad, but to punish him for violating the moral standards of Barack Obama and John Kerry.
According to Syrian sources, Assad's army is sending its personnel and equipment away from places likely to be hit by the Americans.
Does this Commander-in-Chief want a war in which no one is hurt?
That may play well with supporters who think of themselves as politically correct humanists, but the rest of us have some doubts.
Among the scenarios that it is reasonable to predict is that Assad will be weakened, to the benefit of whoever is opposing him.
The latter is the heart of things being made worse.
We've already seen one small example of who will win. The Sunni who executed three truck drivers because they were Alewi. The Arabic speaking Israeli journalist who presented the clip perceived from the killer's accent that he was not Syrian, most likely Chechnyan or from somewhere else in Central Asia. In other words, he is one of the many Jihadists--perhaps al Quaida or some other movement hardly more inclined to enlightened values--attracted to another war for the sake of Allah.
With Assad weakened, we can expect a continuation of civil war with various groups of Jihadists fighting one another when they are not busy ethnically cleansing Alewis, Kurds, Christians, Shiites, and whoever else in the Syrian mosaic does not fit in their view of the future.
In their preoccupation with 1300 deaths from chemical weapons, the American President and Secretary of State have overlooked or dismissed a more attractive possibility, i.e., the cooperation with Russia in an alliance against radical Islam.
The prospect appears bizarre against the reheating Cold War and Russia's cooperation with Hezbollah and Iran. However, at least part of the latter is Russia's concern to limit Iran's influence on its own southern borders in Central Asia. Cooperation with Russia may not play well in Washington, but it sounds better to those concerned that radical Islam is the most serious problem facing the world.
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister put it as well as anyone, when he tweeted that "the West is playing with the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade".
The Arab League has not helped Washington's concern to bolster its moral posturing with international support. Even though the organization earlier expelled Syria and holds Syria responsible for the chemical attack, it opposes a US led attack at this point.
Involved in that reservation is a host of rivalries among Arab countries and concern about an additional American intervention in its region.
A New York Times analysis summarizes Obama's problem.
"With the specter of faulty intelligence assessments before the Iraq war still hanging over US decision making, and with opinion polls showing that only a small fraction of the US public supports military intervention in Syria, some officials in Washington realize that there needs to be a public presentation making the case for war.
A statement by the Arab League on Tuesday added to the uncertainty, underscoring the complexity of the regional landscape, where years of turmoil have set off fierce sectarian fighting and a tidal wave of refugees and left many fearful that a US strike would further inflame tensions."
Barack Obama has included in his pre-war comments the pledge that there will be no American "boots on the ground."
If those Jihadists get their hands on Assad's chemical weapons and means of delivery, all bets should be forgotten as American troops look for their boots.
Obama has postured himself as sensitive to Muslim concerns. The Arab League's reservations may postpone or even derail what appeared to be a done deal.
The UK has not only moved planes to Cyprus. It has also prepared a resolution for the UN Security Council "authorising necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria. Why seek a justification likely to be shot down by Russian and Chinese vetos?
I'll close with a Shana tova, and the hope that my dark mood is misplaced.