Estimates are ranging to half million deaths in the four year civil war in Syria that shows no sign of reaching an end, or even of agreement among observers about what is likely to occur.

 
The most recent headlines have focused on what Hebrew and Arabic speakers call Chalab, and the speakers of western languages call Aleppo. What had been a city with some 2.3 million residents now is providing videos looking like Berlin and Tokyo in 1945, estimates of 30-40 thousand dead, perhaps 100,000 refugees seeking relief from cold, hunger, and thirst,  as well as threats of more killing, rape, and pillage.
 
The city is 500 km (300 miles) from northern Israel, assuming it would be possible to make the trip. There is also fighting right over the border of the Golan Heights, with occasional shells falling by mistake or intention in Israel.
 
Aside from clucking our tongues in sadness at the carnage, pretty much like other outsiders, Israelis aren't doing much, also like other outsiders. Medical personnel take care of injured fighters or civilians who make it to the border, the IDF bombards in response to the shells that land on Israeli territory, and has destroyed stockpiles and shipments of munitions apparently destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
 
The Jerusalem Post published an editorial with the headline, "Israel's moral obligation to help save Aleppo’s civilians," but the item's content is a pale shadow of anything heroic. Its essence is that Israel must promote action by the UN, US, EU, Russia, Turkey and others to stop the carnage. The concluding paragraphs  read more as a moral whisper than anything practical.
 
"As a people who suffered the Holocaust, we should see it as our moral imperative to protect the lives of Syrian civilians, including the thousands of innocent children.
There are no easy answers in the ongoing conflict.
But before time runs out, the innocent – civilians and aid workers trapped in the fighting – must be saved."


The Prime Minister spoke about bringing injured civilians from Chalab to Israel. However, in the aftermath of Muslim refugees killing civilians in Berlin, that may go the way of a lot that the Prime Minister says and doesn't do.
 
A group of Israelis acquired air-time on radio to ask for donations for the purchase of baby food for the refugees from Chalab. How the delivery would be made is its own mystery.


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More prominent than moral worries are the benefits Israel enjoys from carnage among our enemies. Muslim civil war and its uptick in Islamic extremism is keeping our enemies busy, and distracting the world's elites from making any effort to impose a solution for Israel and Palestine. It's also helping to minimize the clout of the country's own leftists, and their standard claim that Israel is at fault for not trying harder to please those claiming priority where Israelis are residing on one or another side of the armistice lines created in 1948. 


IDF planners as well as Arabic speaking commentators are pondering the warfare in Syria and its implication for us via which groups may end up on top, especially in areas near the border.


For some 40 years Israel's relationship with Syria has been one of enmity and threat, along with restraint. Israel has posted significant military resources along the border, but the area is generally quiet. There was an attack against a nuclear site in 2007. There was also the final exit of what had been a substantial Jewish community with a history of two millennia, with some of the last remnants making their way to Israel from way stations in the US or Europe. 


Officially Israel has distanced itself from what is happening, along with some kind of relationship with several of the combatants and sources of their support, including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurds, not all of whom are usually on the same side of the fighting. 


Hezbollah and its Iranian supporters are arguably the most assiduous of Israel's adversaries, and they are deeply involved in the fighting, with significant casualties. 


Optimistic Israelis see both of them as bleeding enough in Syria to postpone any likelihood of significant efforts against Israel. Should they position themselves in any major way close to the border, that would be one of the reasons to contemplate an Israeli preemption.


In a situation where the forces of Russia and Assad appear to have some degree of staying power, while dozens of militias are competing in a chaos that sees allies turning into enemies and again allies, it is best for Israel to stay out of it, while using its power when appropriate.


There have been declarations of friendship with Israel from individuals claiming to speak for one or another of the groups rebelling against the Assad regime. There have also been Syrians who refuse to speak to a reporter identified as an Israeli, perhaps because of fear of retribution or because of the person's own enmity to anything Jewish. 


We can assume that the militias killing one another's fighters and civilian supporters would unify with escalated enthusiasm, and turn their weapons against Israelis if they had the opportunity.


The level of pathos may be significantly greater among Israel's Arabs than Jews, and especially among the Muslims. It is their people who are tearing themselves apart, and producing mass graves as well as countless refugees. We hear of bitterness within families as individuals choose sides and justify the actions of those seen as more just, or more likely to emerge victorious, with other individuals depressed by what seems to be a hopeless chaos of shifting loyalties with no results beyond more death and destruction.


There is no shortage of governments to blame for the unrestrained warfare and civilian misery. For some, Russia is the prime evil, but for others it is the excessive restraint of Barack Obama. Against the occasional bombing run, supplies and advisers sent to favored militias, as well as joining the EU in economic sanctions against Russia for what it has done in Ukraine, the greater impact of the US is to keep its force at home and to provide a free hand to Russians who are supporting and leading the actions of Assad's forces.


Feel free to join the tongue clucking of the Jerusalem Post or other westerners concerned about Syria, as well as suggesting anything more practical.


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Irashark@gmail.com 
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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