I awoke Friday morning to the news of a significant American attack on Assad's forces. It recalled the first bulletins about 9-11, George W. Bush talking about the fall of Saddam, pictures of the Libyan crowd killing Qaddafi, Barack Obama announcing the end of Osama bin Laden, and.watching John Kennedy pointing to a map and explaining what became known as his action to prevent the fall of additional dominoes to Communist control.
Was Friday's act a game changer? Or a slap meant to keep things limited?Irashark@gmail.com
An optimistic view came from a Tel Aviv professor with expertise on things Syrian. He called the American strike measured, meant to punish Assad for breaking the rules with respect to chemical weapons, but coupled with a pre-strike message to Russia in order to avoid a direct confrontation. He also noted that Vladimir Putin is cool enough to keep things in proportion.
We've also heard of a pre-strike American message to Syrians, meant to limit the impact of the attack.
Trump himself explained things with a delivery far less smooth than that of Barack Obama, but the substance was more forceful than the fluency.
A headline in one Israeli media, "The world's policeman has returned to the neighborhood."
Would this change minds about Donald Trump?
Another recent sign was the sidelining of Steve Bannon, and suggestions that professionals might be gaining control over a presidency initially marked by ideologues unspoiled by any experience with government.
Yet there was also the nagging question of what next? And could anything bring something reasonable from the chaos that has developed in Syria?
America's record was not a good one, whether measured in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, or Afghanistan.
Would there be further action in Syria, meant to bring down Assad and his regime. And what about North Korea? Could politics or force somehow neutralize that country's nuclear weapons without a catastrophe in South Korea and/or Japan? Also hanging is Iran, and its support of terror as well as its nuclear capacity.
Russian officials are repeating the claim that the source of the deaths from chemical weapons were munitions held by anti-Assad terrorists, and destroyed by an appropriate bombing raid. They are claiming that sloppy American action caused many US missiles to fall harmlessly away from their targets, and that Russia would be making Syrian air defenses impregnable.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke out strongly in praise of Trump's initiative. Earlier he had been criticized by Vladimir Putin for being misled and hasty in criticizing Assad for the chemical attack.
Israel has a more nuanced relationship with Russia than the US. Russian is the mother tongue of the Defense Minister and perhaps 15 percent of the population. Russia's armed forces are active next door. Netanyahu and Putin, along with Russian and Israeli professionals, have met a number of times to sort out how both Russia and Israel can operate in Syria without encountering one another.
There is no doubt which military has the most power, but we can only guess what Israel would do if Russia acted against its vital interests.
With respect to any competition between the US and Russia in Syria, Russia has an advantage in being allied with the government of Bashar al Assad. Cruel as it is, with apparent intentions to cleanse most of the country of Sunni Muslims, it is a clear choice for the Russians to hang on to. If Trump's concern is to take further action against Assad, he must somehow decide which of perhaps 30 (or more) militias fighting Assad and one another are truly the good Syrians, and which can be relied upon, if aided, to bring the country to something acceptable.
It won't be easy maneuvering in the morass that Syria has become. It may not be possible for Trump to avoid expressing himself--in tweets or with missiles--if there continue to be gory pictures of civilian and child casualties from Assad or a Russian attacks, even they do not employ chemical weapons..
American officials have said that Friday's strike was a limited action meant to prevent the further use of chemical weapons. However, disinformation is part of this game. Americans have also said that Assad's removal is essential for the sake of Syria's future.
Assad and the Russians have already tested the Americans by attacking civilian targets with conventional bombs in the same place where there were deaths from poison gas.
A combination of Russia and Iran has issued an explicit threat of escalation against the US if Trump strikes again.
There's also news of US naval assets, including an aircraft carrier, being moved closer to North Korea.
We've heard Israelis assert that we have responsibilities, as Jews, to be a light unto the Gentiles. For some, that means attacking what is necessary to end the carnage in Syria. For others, it means accepting Syrian refugees in Israel. Or giving money to Jordan for the absorption of refugees there.
For yet others, the Israeli norm should be staying out of any responsibility for Syrians, who have been educated to hate us, except to attack those occurrences on Syrian soil likely to cause us harm.
The Holocaust is employed by those who demand Israeli action, and by those who justify Israeli inaction.
For one, it is the reason that Jews must help those being targeted unjustly.
For others, the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews cannot rely on any other government to concern itself with our fate. And that Jews should avoid choosing sides in the bloody quarrels of others. A subtext in this posture is that intra-Muslim bloodshed minimizes the capacity of Israel's enemies to act against us.
Recent events here, in Britain, Belgium, Germany, the US and Sweden remind us that Islam is a danger. But we also know that not all Muslims are dangerous. Most violence in western democracies is criminal rather than religious, and most comes from non-Muslims.
There are more questions than answers. And a need to remind ourselves that there is no end game in history. .
Donald Trump's place in the history books may depend on how he maneuvers with respect to Syria, Iran, and North Korea. We'll hope for the best. But if he emerges as a skilled and successful leader, it will be the biggest surprise since the St Louis Browns won a baseball game.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem