The verbal brickbats being hurled by Russians, Americans, and various other interested parties at one another over the morass in Syria testify to the cynicism, hypocrisy, and impotence of major actors in international politics.

 
It's hard to praise any of the parties, none of whom are doing much to stop the slaughter that has reached estimates of half a million dead, along with most of Syria's population fleeing their homes and becoming refugees within Syria or elsewhere.
 
Assigning blame is not easy, in the presence of what may be more than 30 separate militias as well as the armed forces of several nations/ It's hard to know who is fighting who, insofar as assertions are often belied by reports, and allies of one day become targets the next.
 
Russia is the most obvious heavy, given its participation and support of Assad's forces in bombing neighborhoods and hospitals in what the world calls Aleppo. Here it goes by the name Chalab (חלב) where there was a Jewish community from the 5th century BCE.
 
The United States is not in the same league as Russia with respect to destruction, but has been playing the established American game of encouraging opposition without doing much to help those who answer the call. 
 
We can start this history with the Hungarian revolt of 1956, when ranking Americans called on the people to revolt against the Soviets and their puppets, then did nothing when Russian tanks moved in to slaughter civilians.
 
We can skip ahead to Iraq, when Bush the elder pushed the forces of Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, then urged the Kurds and Shiites of Iraq to continue the resistance against Saddam, and did nothing while Saddam slaughtered  perhaps 300,000 of them.
 
Bush the younger brought down Saddam and his regime, but did not replace it with anything that could keep order. Estimates range above a million for the Iraqis who have been killed since then.
 
Bush the younger's claim that he'd bring democracy to Iraq, along with Obama's demands for democracy and equality that highlighted an iconic speech in Cairo, were a piece with the American innocence about this region.
 
Barack Obama continued the posturing when he spoke forcefully against Assad's use of chemical weapons, and then left the field to the Russians.
 
Us commoners are hard pressed to judge amidst the contending expressions of Russian and American officials as to which of them  caused a cease fire to crumble within hours of its onset, and more recently their competing calls to stop aiding one or another force, and to cooperate in fighting those forces that must be opposed.
 
Americans claim to be supporting moderate rebels against an inhumane Assad regime, but it's not easy identifying who those moderates might be in the chaos, if they are credible and responsible, and anything close to humane. 
 
One is reluctant to support governments that kill their own people in wholesale fashion. Yet the 11th Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Makes Thing Worse suggests a large measure of restraint before acting in a culture that differs greatly from one's own.
 
It is not clear who or what caused the chaos that now marks much of the Middlle East. However, both Bushes and Obama violated the 11th Commandment in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. And after years of America's military and political efforts in Afghanistan, that country is not more stable, peaceful, or secure for its residents or neighbors.
 
Saddam, Assad, and Muammar Qaddafi were far from ideal in western terms, but each of them managed a regime that brought stability to multi-cultural societies always on the verge of internal violence. They each protected ethnic and religious minorities that demonstrated loyalty to them. Since those countries have unraveled, Christians and ethnic minorities largely or totally unknown in the west, most notably the Yazidis, have been pushed out, slaughtered and/or  turned into sex slaves by militias fighting under the banner of Islam.
 
Turkey has sent its forces into Syria with claims of fighting Islamic extremists, but seem to have been doing most to attack Kurds, who also lived more or less peacefully under Assad.
 
Russia, the US, Assad, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran all proclaim that they are fighting terror, even while they have a different notion of who are the terrorists, and are attacking one another, or one another's proxies.
 
Israel has played its own delicate role in Syria. It has responded forcefully against Assad's forces when one or another militia's rockets or mortars landed on Israel's portion of the Golan Heights. It has worked with Russia to avoid problems when both countries' planes are in the air, or when a Russian plane may stray over Israeli airspace. It has acted forcefully against the shipment of munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon, some of which may come from Russia by way of Iranians. And Israel has sought to acquire some credit for the field hospitals it has established on its side of the border, and treatment provided  there or in hospitals for civilians or fighters who have been injured, and make it over the border. 
 
We can assume that Israel has security personnel operating in Syria, but it's not easy assessing Israel's real policy toward Syria.
 
On the one hand, Assad father and son have spoken and acted against Israel, but both have refrained (since 1973) from significant overt acts. Israel's border with Syria has been as quiet as any since the 1973 war. 
 
I recall my own posting during the Lebanon War of 1982. I spent a day underground at a base on the Golan right on the border. During a morning alert, I went to the above ground lookout, and a soldier on duty told me to look through the binoculars fixed into the fortification  I saw a Syria tank a couple of hundred meters distant, with its cannon pointed at me. However, there was a clothes line from the cannon to a nearby tree, with laundry drying, and a Syrian soldier standing alongside the tank in his underwear. That, I was told, was a message from the Syrians that they had no intention of involving themselves actively, on this front, in Israel's war.
 
To side openly with Assad and his Russian allies would cause Israel trouble with the United States. It would also align Israel indirectly with the Iranian allies of Russia and Assad.
 
So Israel says little in any official capacity.
 
When you understand that, you are on your way to understanding the Middle East.
 
Whether you understand or not, you are entitled to comment. 
 
And to you all, the blessings of the season, especially
 
גמר חטימה טובה


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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