US President Barack Obama 370.
(photo credit: Reuters)
The images of the carnage on the outskirts of Damascus highlighted to Israel and
the international community the degree of horror unfolding just over the
The immediate suspicion was that the Syrian regime led by Bashar
Assad once again made use of chemical weapons – from all indications, sarin gas
– against the civilian population in areas where the opposition is working to
remove him from power.
The timing is perplexing. It was one year ago that
US President Barack Obama proclaimed that use of chemical weapons would
constitute crossing a “redline” that would prompt American
The attack took place after a team of UN inspectors arrived
in the country over the weekend to probe claims that non-conventional arms were
indeed used during the course of the civil war.
The timing of such a
massive offensive action against civilians suggests that it is premature to
definitively determine that chemical-tipped missiles were fired at Assad’s
orders. The exact casualty count is unknown, but the Syrian opposition says that
the number of dead exceeds 1,300.
The almost immediate, knee-jerk
response from pundits and analysts was to criticize the Obama administration’s
foreign policy in the Middle East. Here, once again, we have a scenario in which
a redline was crossed and the administration in Washington remains
At the same time, the White House has been highly critical of
the new regime in Egypt, which is fighting radical Islam.
It is difficult
to resist the urge to join in this chorus of criticism as it relates to the
Obama administration’s handling of the Egypt crisis. The alternative to the
Egyptian military-ruled government is either the return of an even more
radicalized Muslim Brotherhood or the disintegration of Egypt into a number of
disparate zones ruled by armed militias. That is a scenario the White House
would rather not see.
The administration’s cautious approach to events in
Syria is well justified. In fact, it has very good reasons to maintain this
In Syria, there is no choice between “good” and “bad.”
Assad regime is bad, but the opposition that is in its formative stage is
shaping up to be quite bad as well, perhaps even worse from a Western
A coalition of al-Qaida-affiliated gangs is gaining control
of more and more territory in Syria, including some of the country’s larger
cities. Assad’s fall would lead to a situation whereby the West will find itself
faced with a threat that is no less scary – a regime led by extremist Sunni
militias that will have neither the ability nor the inclination to engage the US
and the West – and, by extension, certainly Israel – in dialogue.
awful as it may sound, the administration has precious few options in Syria;
hence its extreme caution.
Despite impassioned pleas for the US to strike
at Assad’s regime, perhaps it would be best to wait for definitive evidence that
would confirm the identity of the actors who fired the chemical weapons
The chemical strike was a culmination of a particularly violent
and bloody week in the Middle East. In the Sinai Peninsula, 24 Egyptian police
officers in civilian clothing were massacred as they approached an army
In Cairo, a court announced the release of former president
Hosni Mubarak from prison. Meanwhile, Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s
general guide, was taken into custody by authorities, though not before 38
prisoners choked to death in one of the Egyptian detention
Missiles fired from Syria hit al-Harmel, a Lebanese town known
as a Hezbollah stronghold.
In Iraq, dozens were killed in a string of
Unlike most Israeli citizens, the Middle East didn’t take a
vacation in August. Heck, it didn’t even take a break.
The writer is a
The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication