Is­rael sees the West’s in­ac­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Robert Philpot

ONE YEAR ago, in the early hours of Au­gust 21 2013, Bashar al-As­sad’s forces launched rock­ets con­tain­ing chem­i­cal war­heads at two Da­m­as­cus sub­urbs, East­ern and Western Ghouta. Nearly 1,500 peo­ple – in­clud­ing at least 426 chil­dren – died in the two at­tacks, the most deadly use of chem­i­cal weapons since Sad­dam Hus­sein gassed the cit­i­zens of Hal­abja in 1988.

While the streets of our cities have re­ver­ber­ated this sum­mer to loud cries for ac­tion against Is­rael, last year the chants were for in­ac­tion against As­sad. Just over a week later, par­lia­ment fell in with crowd, block­ing Bri­tish par­tic­i­pa­tion in planned US mil­i­tary ac­tion to en­force Barack Obama’s “red line” against the use of chem­i­cal weapons. The “rush to war” in Syria, pro­claimed Ed Miliband, had been halted.

To­day, that procla­ma­tion rings some­what hol­low. The death toll in Syria stood at 100,000 last Au­gust. It now stands close to 170,000. The num­ber of dis­placed peo­ple – in all, 42 per cent of Syr­i­ans are be­lieved to have fled their homes – con­tin­ues to rise. The As­sad regime, in de­fi­ance of UN se­cu­rity coun­cil res­o­lu­tions, con­tin­ues to rain bar­rel bombs down on civil­ian ar­eas.

There is no deny­ing that the vote in par­lia­ment re­flected the views of a war-weary public and a new po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus.

But while we are con­stantly cau­tioned to “learn the lessons of the Iraq war”, isn’t it now time to re­flect on three years of the West’s ap­par­ent in­dif­fer­ence to the slow-mo­tion de­struc­tion of the Syr­ian na­tion?

As Hil­lary Clin­ton, draw­ing an im­plicit con­trast between the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and the pres­i­dency of the man she served as Sec­re­tary of State un­til last Jan­uary, sug­gests in an in­ter­view with the At­lantic mag­a­zine this month, “when you’re down on your­self, and when you are hun­ker­ing down and pulling back, you’re not go­ing to make any bet­ter de­ci­sions than when you were ag­gres­sively, bel­liger­ently putting your­self for­ward.”

She cites Syria as a case in point. The West’s fail­ure there to “build up a cred­i­ble fight­ing force of the peo­ple who were the orig­i­na­tors of the protests against As­sad,” Clin­ton ar­gues, “left a big vac­uum, which the ji­hadists have now filled”.

The con­se­quences of that fail­ure are now felt far be­yond the bor­ders of Syria, as Isis men­aces Kur­dis­tan and threat­ens geno­cide against the Assyr­ian, Chaldean, Syr­iac Chris­tian and Yazidi peo­ples of Iraq. As Clin­ton cor­rectly main­tains, the ji­hadists are in­her­ently ex­pan­sion­ist. In re­sponse,

This is not a West ver­sus Is­lam con­flict

she ad­vo­cates a Cold War-like strat­egy of “con­tain­ment, de­ter­rence and de­feat”.

David Rothkopf, au­thor of the forth­com­ing book Na­tional In­se­cu­rity: Amer­i­can Lead­er­ship in an Age of Fear, be­lieves that whether it is Ha­mas in Gaza, An­sar al-Sharia in Libya, the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood in Egypt, the al-Nus­rah Front in Syria, al Qaeda in the Ara­bian penin­sula or the Is­lamic State forg­ing its caliphate, “it is clear that ex­trem­ist Is­lam is emerg­ing as a threat so broad that it must be seen in its to­tal­ity to be con­tended with”. This is not, how­ever, a con­flict between the West and Is­lam. The West’s role is to bol­ster moder­ate Mus­lims who be­lieve that piety and progress can co­ex­ist, against the ex­trem­ists who seek to bring me­dieval bar­bar­ity to the 21st cen­tury.

Is­rael’s crit­ics fre­quently con­tend that the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tinian peo­ple is the root cause of rad­i­cal­ism and ter­ror in the Mid­dle East. It de­tracts not a bit from that suf­fer­ing to state the ab­sur­dity of this ar­gu­ment. It is, as Clin­ton also recog­nises, fear of ter­ror and rad­i­cal­ism which drives Is­rael’s de­mand to main­tain se­cu­rity in the West Bank – not least to pre­vent cross-bor­der at­tacks – and thus makes a deal between it and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity so in­tractable.

More­over, watch­ing the West’s in­ac­tion in Syria – and its pro­cras­ti­na­tion as the new bar­bar­ians of Isis, who its pusi­la­nim­ity helped to breed, sweep across Iraq, butcher­ing sup­posed en­e­mies in their wake – is it any won­der if Is­rael pon­ders the ques­tion: if we don’t pro­tect our­selves, who will?

Robert Philpot is ed­i­tor of Progress mag­a­zine

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