(photo credit: REUTERS)
As I sat at a press conference listening to the gentle, soft-spoken leader of the Syrian opposition, Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani, appeal to the kindness of Israel, requesting its assistance in setting up a “safe zone” for refugees on the Syrian side of its border with Israel, I felt uncomfortable.
Our sworn enemy, Syria, is in a horrid civil war and Israel has done its utmost to stay disconnected from this chaos, where “the enemy of my enemy” is certainly not our friend.
We are now being asked to set aside the fact that Israel has been vilified by the Arab world to the point where the Syrian people hate us so much that they refer to Israel as “the shark in the waters of the Middle East” (Al-Labwani’s words). Surely, it is implied, if we are a good people from a nation that has survived untold atrocities, we will want to help innocent women and children suffering from the brutal war. How could we not want to nod our heads in agreement? It was necessary to walk away from the meeting to analyze the request being made of Israel. What might be required of our country to “be a good neighbor”? Al-Labwani wants us to help set up a “safe zone” and allow aid to flow from Haifa Port to those on the other side of the border. (He predicted that an initial population of 20,000 refugees would likely skyrocket quickly to 200,000 people.) The safe zone he envisions would be “attack-free” as a result of the profound generosity and utopian agreement between Islamic State, Hezbollah, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s air forces (which seem to be bombing those they claim to want to help on a daily basis).
Can you imagine those four entities actually agreeing on anything at all? Al-Labwani theorizes that pressure from Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States and other nations could achieve such an accord. If the warring groups should actually sign such a document, how long might it be before one of them changes their mind to prove the point that they are in fact, the force in control after all? Imagine the scenario: Bombs of the ruthless group are dropped on the Syrian refugees, just across the Israeli border in the “safe zone.” Terrified women and children push through the barriers and flow into Israel to survive. Israel is being asked, as a “good neighbor,” to be prepared for this event with massive numbers of buses to take the refugees to Haifa, and to arrange that they are loaded onto ships (provided by whom?) to Germany, which may or may not still be interested in receiving them at that point in time.
Now consider the resources needed to be this benign “good neighbor.” What proportion of the IDF would have to be reassigned to the northern border to be prepared for such an eventuality? How many would be needed to assist with transporting aid from the Haifa Port to the border and thoroughly examine the aid itself to be sure that it is weapons-free? How many police and soldiers would need to be redirected to the North, thus reducing our ability to defend ourselves from the vicious Arab knife attacks on our own innocents on our streets? If our troops are reassigned to the North, how weakened will our defense preparation be for the assaults from Gaza, Lebanon and Islamic State cells now in development? How many years might this situation continue and drain our resources? While Israel may not want to walk away from Al-Labwani’s request completely, it would behoove her leaders to re-design the option as follows.
Insist that the safe zone be placed on the Syrian side of Jordan’s border, but close to Israel. Israel’s redevelopment of the Valley Railway, which will connect Haifa with the Jordanian border, will soon facilitate the movement of aid or persons in an orderly process that would, in an emergency, begin in Jordan rather than on Israeli land.
Assistance and aid can be taken to the Jordanian border, and an international force can deliver it from that point forward.
Israel cannot be expected to provide immediate buses for the transport of a potential 200,000 refugees who can engulf our land while fleeing from Syria.
The critical issue of which countries might provide the ships for the transport would need to be resolved by the international community. Germany, whose citizens appear to be reacting poorly to the 1,100,000 migrants who have already arrived on their shores, would need to guarantee to accept even more should disaster occur.
Israel has always provided aid around the world in times of crisis. Earthquakes and tsunamis have a limited time frame during which medical and life-saving assistance are viable; Al-Labwani’s appeal has no end in sight.
Israel’s generosity must be balanced with the potential for self-endangerment; being a “good neighbor” is more complicated than it first appears. The writer is a member of the Jerusalem Press Club and several international pro-Israel organizations. She was a pro-Israel activist for over 40 years, hosted the show ‘Barbara Diamond: One on One’ on Israel’s Radio West and London’s Spectrum Radio, and participated in missions to help Russian Refuseniks and Ethiopian Jews.