Threatening Israel

‘If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn,” a Syrian higher-up bristled this week. Israel, in light of such statements, cannot regard the escalating situation up north with the equanimity of a detached observer.

yaalon chief of staff 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yaalon chief of staff 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
‘If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn,” a Syrian higher-up bristled this week. Israel, in light of such statements, cannot regard the escalating situation up north with the equanimity of a detached observer.
There can be no passivity when a coterie of evil powers hurls deadly threats at Israel in the context of a struggle in which it is uninvolved.
In a fairer existence, this alone ought to have unsettled the international community. But it is futile to expect fair-mindedness where Israel is concerned.
The anti-Israel bluster from Damascus, Tehran and Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon appear to have disturbed none of the foreign statesmen or opinion-molders, whose alacrity to condemn Israel for any perceived transgression is nothing short of remarkable.
Moreover, the veiled hints from Moscow about dire repercussions for the entire region in the event of an American attack on the Assad regime might imply warnings of punishment for Israel.
All the while, Israeli commentators strive to outdo each other with educated guesses about whether we are vulnerable, whether it would serve Bashar Assad’s interests to fire at us, whether we should retaliate and how.
Much of the babble is superfluous. Regardless of what eventually happens, all Israelis should be deeply troubled by the profound indifference abroad to our lot – blameless as we are in the Syrian strife. The very fact that a neighboring state could be presumed to be held to ransom for events entirely outside control should shock world opinion. But it does not.
Israelis might be forgiven for suspecting the reaction would be radically different had any other country been similarly threatened for no fault of its own. Sadly we must come to terms with the likelihood that different criteria are applied to the Jewish state.
This is disconcertingly reminiscent of our traumatic experience during the First Gulf War. Events then were also played out beyond the Israeli context. Nonetheless, Israel suffered repeated heavy missile attacks, including 40 Scud hits. The Iraqi warheads were aimed directly and unmistakably at civilian population centers.
Saddam Hussein’s raison d’être was that by targeting Israel he was hurting the US. In the view of all too many Middle Eastern despots and potentates, Israel is nothing but an American underling.
At the time there was no audible international indignation.
The only American response was to advocate Israeli restraint. Indeed Israel refrained from retaliating, thereby compromising its deterrence and underscoring its vulnerabilities for the sake of American interests.
But there was no gratitude for Israel’s sacrifices.
Washington only pressured Israel for territorial concessions, never counted Saddam’s anti-Israel aggression among his sins and treated Israel largely as a mistress whose favors are required but must never be publicly acknowledged.
The Obama administration might well want Israel to reprise this role. It is precisely this behavior that Israel must under no circumstances repeat.
This time Israel has made it clear – through pronouncements by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz – that this country and its people will not be pawns in the wars that others wage.
Notice has been duly served to friend and foe alike and to all shades in between that Israel will not again consent to being a whipping boy. If anything can daunt the Shi’ite axis that buttresses Assad, along with his more distant supporters in Russia and China, it is such an unequivocal message from Israel.
Some Assad-watchers in Israel maintain that he understands quite well that the Israel of 2013 is not the Israel of 1990. They note that it would make no sense for him to strike out against Israel because he knows that vigorous Israeli retribution would seal his fate.
The experts are right – in rational terms. We, however, heard precisely such learned estimations immediately before the first American invasion of Iraq, and they, too, sounded eminently reasonable... to us. The problem is that this region does not operate according to our logic.