Encountering peace: The weakness of force and the power of diplomacy

With success in Syria, the international community might even become bolder in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Assad in Chalie Rose interview 370 (photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
Assad in Chalie Rose interview 370
(photo credit: YouTube Screenshot)
It has been said that when asked his opinion about the Iran-Iraq war, prime minister Menachem Begin responded: I wish both sides the greatest success.
That seems to be the position of many Israelis today regarding Syria.
It seems to me that a large part of the Israeli public, at least a large part of the media and especially a large part of the military analysts in Israel, are truly disappointed that the United States most likely will not hit Syria with Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weapons. President Barack Obama chickened out.
Obama has no courage. Obama never really wanted to hit them. Obama is afraid of Putin. The Americans are traumatized by Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has weakened America. What hasn’t been said against Obama? The most frightening and dangerous conclusion our experts and analysts have come to is this: when it comes to Iran, we now know that we can’t trust Obama and the US. We have not yet reached the end of the Syria story, but if the Russian proposal is implemented and supported by the UN Security Council under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, this would be a great victory for diplomacy, the United Nations, Russia and the US. It would also be a great victory for the Syrian people, and believe it or not, it would be a victory for Israel as well.
The rush in Israel to get gas masks by large parts of the public demonstrated the real fear that many Israelis felt of possible retaliatory attacks by some of our neighbors following an American attack against Assad. If the Russian plan is implemented, not only is that attack by our neighbors not going to happen, all chemical weapons will removed from Assad’s arsenal, and the risk of it of falling into the hands of Hezbollah or other rogue jihadi Sunni groups now fighting in Syria eliminated. The neighborhood will be a safer place as a result of diplomacy.
Successful clean-up of chemical weapons in Syria may result in follow-up diplomacy. The international community may finally do something in a united way to bring the Syrian civil war to an end and escort in a period of gradual democracy there through elections in which Assad would not participate. There could be motivation in that diplomatic effort to remove the non-Syrian jihadi groups which have been fighting Assad. Hezbollah would remove its 10,000 troops from Syria and return home to Lebanon where they have been significantly weakened in stature because of supporting Assad.
With success in Syria, the international community might even become bolder in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
While most Israelis would probably not be happy about that, if in the end it helps to secure a real, comprehensive peace and end-of-conflict agreement with the Palestinians, it will best serve Israel’s real national security interests.
The precedent of Russia using diplomacy, supported by the United States and China in the Security Council, could usher in a new world order based on diplomatic cooperation between the superpowers rather than competition and conflict through local and regional proxies.
Another outcome of successful international diplomacy in Syria could be additional international diplomatic pressure on Iran to fully place its nuclear program under real international scrutiny and supervision. Perhaps a Russian-Chinese- American agreement could be reached on ensuring that Iran will end all of its nuclear weapons programs with mechanisms in place for genuine verification and compliance.
There is little doubt in my mind that if the international community moved in that direction, the next step along the way would be to apply pressure on Israel to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection. Then the international community would once again raise the proposal to convene an international conference on creating a Middle East WMD-free zone. With an effective international regime ensuring verification and compliance tried and tested in Syria and in Iran, Israel would have little reason not to agree to at least participate in the discussions regarding the prospect.
Israel would be a much safer place if the whole neighborhood was part of that zone and there were in fact effective means to ensure that Israel is not being tricked by what many in Israel will call Chamberlainism. US-Russian-Chinese agreement on these kinds of diplomatic strategies that create cooperation for a safer world would not only benefit those three countries directly; it would help the entire region and in fact the entire world.
It could in fact be the catalyst of a new wave of unprecedented global economic growth and prosperity.
We have heard some of the politicians in the world and in Israel say that restraint is also power. We were told by our leaders that very statement during the first Gulf war when Scud rockets rained on us from Saddam Hussein and Israel did not respond. Yes, it is true: restraint can also be a demonstration of power and confidence. The threat of force is sometimes a lot more powerful than the actual use of force, as we are seeing in Syria now. Effective and intelligent diplomacy can be the most powerful tool in the geopolitical toolbox in protecting national security interests.
That will hopefully be the most important lesson and outcome of the current crisis.
It would be nice if some of our important military correspondents, analysts and the parade of retired generals who take over the airwaves during these times of crisis also learned the lesson of the benefits of diplomacy. Rather than attacking the protagonists of diplomacy as weak, perhaps it is time that we all recognize the limits of force and the power of diplomacy.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book, Freeing Gilad: The Secret Back Channel, has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew.