History will show who got Syria right
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.
An Israeli tank on an exercise simulating conflict with Lebanese movement Hezbollah in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border.