Barack Obama in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner.)
If Israel’s bombing of Syria, which apparently killed more than 100 Syrian troops, is meant as a warning to Iran—as various analysts in Israel and The Jerusalem Post suggest—then the message is: We can strike a nearby, war-embattled nation just minutes from our bases. It really says little about Israel’s ability to strike Iran, a far more complex target much, much farther away. But it does put Israel into a firm alliance with Saudi Arabia (and the Sunnis) in a very dangerous Sunni vs. Shiite sectarian conflict.
President Obama, who, as noted in this blog, repeatedly, awkwardly boxed himself in with his off-the-cuff “red-line” comments about Syria’s alleged (and let us repeat, “alleged”) use of chemical weapons, should decline Israel’s violent invitation to take sides in the anti-Iranian crusade. But John McCain, who’s wanted to bomb Syria from the start, is urging Obama to accept Israel’s invitation to join the fight. Unfortunately, too many Democrats, mostly liberal interventionists and allies of the Israel lobby, agree.
Perhaps his readiness to intervene in Syria will be tempered by the fact that it now appears as if the Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons, too, according to the United Nations. But as The New York Times reports, the United States and its allies were, “in secret,” already discussing air strikes against Syria. But Obama should instead seek an immediate cease-fire, with Russia’s support—Secretary of State John Kerry is heading for Moscow—and then work out a political accord.
In any case, it’s hard to take Israel’s assertion that its strikes against Syria on Friday and again on Sunday, more massively, were aimed simply at rockets that may or may not have reached Hezbollah in Lebanon. From early reports, it appears that the attacks were aimed at key bastions of the Syrian government and military in and around the capital, Damascus:
The attack, which sent brightly lighted columns of smoke and ash high into the night sky above the Syrian capital, struck several critical military facilities in some of the country’s most tightly secured and strategic areas, killing dozens of elite troops stationed near the presidential palace, a high-ranking Syrian military official said in an interview.
Last night, speaking on CNN, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said that the new attacks mean that Israel is now firmly in an alliance with Al Qaeda against President Bashar al-Assad. He’s right. It’s an alliance that the United States, already entangled in the war, doesn’t need to join.
The attacks also create a major public relations problem for the rebels, mostly militant Islamists, Al Qaeda types, Muslim Brotherhood activists, and other Sunni religious folks, all of whom are not enthralled by the idea of getting overt Israeli help in toppling Assad. According to The New York Times, the rebels issued a confused statement noting that they don’t want assistance from “external occupying forces,” that is, from Israeli forces occupying Palestine. Some of them are critical of the Assad government for refusing to confront Israel.
Syria is threatening to retaliate against Israel, but really there isn’t much that they can do, and Iran, too, isn’t likely to allow itself to be provoked by the Israeli attack. That could change though, if Israel continues to bomb Syria in what would be an overt alliance with the rebels. But with Benjamin Netanyahu now in Beijing, it isn’t likely that Israel will continue to attack Syria, for now. However, President Obama, who’s tried, mostly, to stay out of the war, is very likely to do what Senator McCain wants now.
Writing in The New York Times today, Bill Keller says (in an op-ed) that Obama shouldn’t worry about his concern that going to war in Iraq was a bad idea, since “Syria is not Iraq.” Keller, of course, was in favor of invading Iraq in 2003, so we can take his advice with a grain of salt. As he says in the op-ed:
[D]uring an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment.
Oh, well—oops! A few hundred thousand dead. Time to move on. And bomb Syria. As Keller says, “Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”
The vast majority of Americans oppose military involvement in Syria, Robert Dreyfuss writes.