It has been said that when asked his opinion about the Iran-Iraq war, prime
minister Menachem Begin responded: I wish both sides the greatest
That seems to be the position of many Israelis today regarding
It seems to me that a large part of the Israeli public, at least a
large part of the media and especially a large part of the military analysts in
Israel, are truly disappointed that the United States most likely will not hit
Syria with Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weapons. President Barack Obama
Obama has no courage. Obama never really wanted to hit
them. Obama is afraid of Putin. The Americans are traumatized by Iraq and
Afghanistan. Obama has weakened America. What hasn’t been said against Obama?
The most frightening and dangerous conclusion our experts and analysts have come
to is this: when it comes to Iran, we now know that we can’t trust Obama and the
US. We have not yet reached the end of the Syria story, but if the Russian
proposal is implemented and supported by the UN Security Council under Chapter 7
of the UN Charter, this would be a great victory for diplomacy, the United
Nations, Russia and the US. It would also be a great victory for the Syrian
people, and believe it or not, it would be a victory for Israel as
The rush in Israel to get gas masks by large parts of the public
demonstrated the real fear that many Israelis felt of possible retaliatory
attacks by some of our neighbors following an American attack against Assad. If
the Russian plan is implemented, not only is that attack by our neighbors not
going to happen, all chemical weapons will removed from Assad’s arsenal, and the
risk of it of falling into the hands of Hezbollah or other rogue jihadi Sunni
groups now fighting in Syria eliminated. The neighborhood will be a safer place
as a result of diplomacy.
Successful clean-up of chemical weapons in
Syria may result in follow-up diplomacy. The international community may finally
do something in a united way to bring the Syrian civil war to an end and escort
in a period of gradual democracy there through elections in which Assad would
not participate. There could be motivation in that diplomatic effort to remove
the non-Syrian jihadi groups which have been fighting Assad. Hezbollah would
remove its 10,000 troops from Syria and return home to Lebanon where they have
been significantly weakened in stature because of supporting Assad.
success in Syria, the international community might even become bolder in
dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
While most Israelis would
probably not be happy about that, if in the end it helps to secure a real,
comprehensive peace and end-of-conflict agreement with the Palestinians, it will
best serve Israel’s real national security interests.
The precedent of
Russia using diplomacy, supported by the United States and China in the Security
Council, could usher in a new world order based on diplomatic cooperation
between the superpowers rather than competition and conflict through local and
Another outcome of successful international diplomacy
in Syria could be additional international diplomatic pressure on Iran to fully
place its nuclear program under real international scrutiny and supervision.
Perhaps a Russian-Chinese- American agreement could be reached on ensuring that
Iran will end all of its nuclear weapons programs with mechanisms in place for
genuine verification and compliance.
There is little doubt in my mind
that if the international community moved in that direction, the next step along
the way would be to apply pressure on Israel to open its nuclear facilities to
international inspection. Then the international community would once again
raise the proposal to convene an international conference on creating a Middle
East WMD-free zone. With an effective international regime ensuring verification
and compliance tried and tested in Syria and in Iran, Israel would have little
reason not to agree to at least participate in the discussions regarding the
Israel would be a much safer place if the whole neighborhood
was part of that zone and there were in fact effective means to ensure that
Israel is not being tricked by what many in Israel will call Chamberlainism.
US-Russian-Chinese agreement on these kinds of diplomatic strategies that create
cooperation for a safer world would not only benefit those three countries
directly; it would help the entire region and in fact the entire
It could in fact be the catalyst of a new wave of unprecedented
global economic growth and prosperity.
We have heard some of the
politicians in the world and in Israel say that restraint is also power. We were
told by our leaders that very statement during the first Gulf war when Scud
rockets rained on us from Saddam Hussein and Israel did not respond. Yes, it is
true: restraint can also be a demonstration of power and confidence. The threat
of force is sometimes a lot more powerful than the actual use of force, as we
are seeing in Syria now. Effective and intelligent diplomacy can be the most
powerful tool in the geopolitical toolbox in protecting national security
That will hopefully be the most important lesson and outcome
of the current crisis.
It would be nice if some of our important military
correspondents, analysts and the parade of retired generals who take over the
airwaves during these times of crisis also learned the lesson of the benefits of
diplomacy. Rather than attacking the protagonists of diplomacy as weak, perhaps
it is time that we all recognize the limits of force and the power of
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine
Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the
initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad
Schalit. His new book, Freeing Gilad: The Secret Back Channel, has been
published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew.