US President Barack Obama has taken an unfair beating by many on the right of
the Israeli political spectrum for his decision to seek congressional approval
for a strike on Syria.
They see a connection between the West’s
oscillating on Syria – including the British decision to vote down Prime
Minister David Cameron’s appeal to approve action against Syrian President
Bashar Assad’s regime for using chemical weapons – and the likelihood that, when
push comes to shove, a call to confront Iran militarily to prevent it from
becoming a nuclear power might meet a similar fate.
Housing Minister Uri
Ariel (Bayit Yehudi), for instance, noted cynically over the weekend that “in
Tehran, they’re opening the champagne and switching into a higher gear in their
push for nuclear weapons.”
Meanwhile, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali
Bennett, the Bayit Yehudi chairman, wrote on his Facebook page: “The
international stuttering and hesitancy on a Syria strike just proves once more
that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself.”
Unnamed state sources
told Army Radio, “If Obama hesitates regarding Syria, he will clearly hesitate
even more on Iran, an operation expected to be much more
But the comparison is not altogether fair, and the West’s
reaction on the Syrian front shouldn’t be perceived as a litmus test regarding
how we can expect the US and other Western countries to react if and when Iran
is on the verge of attaining nuclear weapon capability.
Iran with a
nuclear bomb would be a dangerous, destabilizing, game-changing development for
the region. A nuclear capability would embolden Tehran to seize control of the
Straits of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes. A nuclear
Iran would also unleash a nuclear arms race. And possessing a nuclear bomb would
radically augment the Islamic Republic’s political influence – and the influence
of its terrorist proxies – as well as making it nearly impervious to
international pressure. The West has a clear, vested interest in preventing this
In contrast, the ongoing civil war in Syria is primarily
a humanitarian crisis. While there is a desire by the civilized world to stop
the bloodshed and reinstate political stability, the West has no real
geopolitical interests in ending the Syrian conflict.
Aside from the
innocent civilians caught in the crossfire, there are no “good guys” among the
sides of the conflict. The despotic Assad regime, which has no qualms about
using chemical weapons to kill its own citizens, is battling against forces
aligned with al-Qaida – the archenemy of the US – and against the Muslim
It is to Obama’s credit that in his address on Saturday
night, he said what was needed to be said: “I’ve told you what I believe, that
our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of
countless civilians with chemical weapons.”
Obama’s decision to seek
congressional approval – rather than a sign of weakness of wishy-washy
indecision – might instead be the wise move ahead of such a potentially volatile
“I believe that the people’s representatives must be invested in
what America does abroad, and now is the time to show the world that America
keeps our commitments.
We do what we say. And we lead with the belief
that right makes might – not the other way around,” he said, in the hopes that
the US legislators will put political differences aside and back limited action
Obviously, many in Israel want to see the speedy end of
bloodshed in Syria. Israeli hospitals have treated dozens of wounded Syrians who
have managed to gain entrance to the Jewish state. But there are no easy choices
when it comes to military intervention.
Any force that could conceivably
replace Assad would not lead to more stability in the region, and could bring
about even more conflict and unrest. It’s also unclear at this stage who could
fill Assad’s shoes. That’s why the West has been – and continues to be –
equivocal about getting involved militarily in Syria.
Obama believes that
Congress will ultimately support a limited military operation in Syria and the
US will attack.
“I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage. Today I’m
asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward
together as one nation,” Obama declared Saturday.
A decision by consensus
in Congress, rather than a unilateral one by the president, would send that
message more forcefully.