His­tory will show who got Syria right

National Post (Latest Edition) - - EDITORIALS - Robert Ful­ford

One way to un­der­stand the vul­ner­a­ble ge­og­ra­phy of Is­rael is to go far north, through the Galilee and into the Golan Heights, right up to the fence that marks the bor­der with Syria. On the other side of the fence sol­diers rep­re­sent at least three of Is­rael’s many en­e­mies. Some troops be­long to Syria, which has been against Is­rael since it was founded. There are usu­ally some mem­bers of Hezbol­lah (mean­ing Party of Al­lah), a Shi’a Is­lamist ter­ror group based in Le­banon with a po­lit­i­cal wing in the Le­banese par­lia­ment, which is surely one of the weird­est gov­ern­ment ar­range­ments in mod­ern times. Hezbol­lah was founded in 1985 by a third en­emy, Iran, which wanted to gather all the Le­banese Shi’a groups in one unit, the bet­ter to bring about Is­rael’s doom.

On the one oc­ca­sion I was there, Is­raeli guards pointed out a place on the fence where some per­son or per­sons had made their way into Is­raeli ter­ri­tory just the night be­fore. Ap­par­ently they were not plan­ning to do harm. It was an ex­ploratory sor­tie, to learn how quickly the Is­raelis could re­spond when their elec­tronic space was vi­o­lated, in­for­ma­tion that might be needed dur­ing a fu­ture of­fen­sive.

Two weeks ago, Is­raeli planes bombed two Syr­ian mil­i­tary sites in Masyaf, a small city in north­west­ern Syria. One was a fac­tory pro­duc­ing chem­i­cal weapons. The other was a nearby mil­i­tary base re­ported to be pro­duc­ing pre­ci­sionguided mis­siles ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing chem­i­cal weapons. A few days ear­lier, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu had said in a news con­fer­ence: “Iran is busy turn­ing Syria into a base of mil­i­tary en­trench­ment and it wants to use Syria and Le­banon as war fronts against its de­clared goal to erad­i­cate Is­rael.”

So Is­rael struck three of its en­e­mies at once. It crip­pled some as­pects of Syria’s war plans, it de­prived Hezbol­lah of weapons it might be ex­pect­ing to use against Is­rael and it nul­li­fied what­ever money and tech­ni­cal knowl­edge Iran in­vested in the two sites.

But there were other rea­sons for the at­tack, and other re­sults. Amos Yadlin, of the In­sti­tute for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­sity, said the strike had hit a fac­tory pro­duc­ing chem­i­cal weapons and bar­rel bombs that have killed thou­sands of Syr­ian civil­ians. Seen as an Is­rael ini­tia­tive, the strike was both “a com­mend­able and moral ac­tion by Is­rael against the slaugh­ter in Syria.”

Two ear­lier strikes in Is­rael’s his­tory are worth re­mem­ber­ing at this point. In 1981, the Is­raeli Air Force de­stroyed Sad­dam Hus­sein’s nu­clear re­ac­tor in Osirak. At the time most of the com­ments from around the world con­demned that bomb­ing as ir­re­spon­si­ble and un­nec­es­sary, but it’s since been widely rec­og­nized as in­tel­li­gent. Ten years ago, Is­rael de­stroyed Syria’s Al Kibar re­ac­tor, where the As­sad regime was try­ing to pro­duce nu­clear weapons. That also was widely crit­i­cized at the time but has since been praised.

UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­cided re­cently that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment of Bashar al- As­sad used chem­i­cal poi­son in an April 4 at­tack on the rebel- held town of Khan Sheikhoun. It killed 83 peo­ple and in­jured 300 others, leav­ing many of those who sur­vived foam­ing at the mouth and gasp­ing for breath. Some vic­tims died in bed and were not found un­til later that day. One woman, re­turn­ing from her work in the fields, found her four chil­dren dead.

The UN re­port re­ferred to Barack Obama’s state­ment in 2013 that fur­ther use of chem­i­cal weapons by Syria would be a “red line” that would bring an ef­fec­tive re­sponse from the U. S. if it were crossed. As­sad ig­nored that warn­ing as he ig­nored all the hor­ri­fied com­ments the West has rained upon him since Syria’s civil war be­gan six wretched years ago. Sav­ing his po­si­tion is his cen­tral mo­tive and to keep it he will fight till the last Syr­ian. Rus­sia, which has come to As­sad’s aid and ap­par­ently turned the war into tri­umph for him, will have to share the blame.

With or with­out Rus­sia, As­sad has been mur­der­ing his own peo­ple with aban­don. Seen as a mo­ment in Syr­ian his­tory, the civil war it­self should be classed as a self-in­flicted war crime.

JALAA MAREY / AFP / GETTY IM­AGES FILES

An Is­raeli tank on an ex­er­cise sim­u­lat­ing con­flict with Le­banese move­ment Hezbol­lah in the Golan Heights near the Syr­ian bor­der.

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