The world’s moral failure on Syria

“In the name of human morality, in the name of the six million of my people who were slaughtered, I cannot remain silent. The hour for action has come.”

Satellite images by Stratfor purport to show Islamic State attack on Russian air base in Syria (photo credit: screenshot)
Satellite images by Stratfor purport to show Islamic State attack on Russian air base in Syria
(photo credit: screenshot)
In late 1944, John J. McCloy, the United States assistant secretary of war, wrote letters to the War Refugee Committee and the World Jewish Committee explaining the US justification not to bomb the Auschwitz- Birkenau death camp.
McCloy wrote that carrying out such an attack would necessitate precision bombing, employing heavy or medium bombardment, or attack by low-flying or dive-bombing aircraft, but that the target was beyond the range of its medium bombardment, dive bombers and fighter bombers located in the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Deployment of heavy bombers from bases in the UK, he added, would necessitate a hazardous round trip flight of approximately 2,000 miles over enemy territory unescorted.
Furthermore, McCloy wrote that the allies’ strategic air forces were required to destroy Nazi Germany’s vital industries and that the only way to put an end to the extermination of European Jewry was “the earliest possible victory over Germany, to which end we should exert our entire means.”
The debate as to whether it would have been possible to bomb Auschwitz – the allies bombed a plant producing oil and rubber only a few miles away – and set back the pace of the Holocaust has raged bitterly ever since.
Today, there can be no such excuse.
On May 15, the US said it has evidence that the Bashar Assad regime has built a crematorium at the Sednaya military prison outside Damascus and is using the facility to dispose of the remains of thousands of prisoners killed there during the country’s six-year civil war. Amnesty International estimates that at least 13,000 prisoners have been executed at the complex and that dozens more are being killed there every week.
Amnesty describes a routine of inhumanity, marked by beatings, rape, systematic deprivation of food, water, medicine and medical care – and finally execution, with prisoners being told they are being transferred to civilian prisons before being taken off blindfolded and then beaten severely and hung, not knowing they are going to die until the noose is placed around their necks.
There is, today, no technological obstacle to obliterating this obscenity; a salvo of cruise missiles could destroy the crematorium and prison at the push of a button, and there is no strategic imperative that requires the allocation of resources elsewhere.
Russia may have forces and air defense systems in Syria, but it would be hard pressed to stand behind its client in this case.
Lawmakers in Israel immediately jumped into the fray and called for action. Israel has a “moral responsibility to act when, within striking distance of the IDF, people are being burnt. We have to wipe that crematorium off the face of the earth,” wrote Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on his Facebook page.
“In the name of human morality, in the name of the six million of my people who were slaughtered, I cannot remain silent. The hour for action has come,” said Interior Minister Arye Deri of Shas, while Construction Minister Yoav Gallant, a former IDF general and the son of Holocaust survivors, called for Assad to be assassinated.
Israel has, so far, stayed out of the Syrian war, acting only when its own interests are at stake, such as preventing the transfer of game-changing weapons to Assad’s ally Hezbollah.
Should it now intervene? After all, Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past cited the Allies failure to bomb Auschwitz and the Israel Air Force has flown over the camp as if to say, “If we had an air force back then, we could have prevented the Holocaust.”
Well, now we do have an air force and atrocities are occurring in our back yard.
Israel should not act alone.
But it should stand up to say never again to world that, despite the gruesome revelations, shows no sign of rallying to action and once again seems ready to let a brutal dictator commit acts of mass murder and ethnic cleansing.
As Donald Trump visits Israel next week, Netanyahu should impress on the US president, both in private and publicly, the need for the Western powers to put an end to their shameful inertia.
Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer famously said that the Ten Commandments should be strengthened by three additional ones: Thou shall not be a perpetrator; Thou shall not be a victim; and Thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.
Bauer argues that bombing Auschwitz was not feasible militarily and would have done little to help the Jews, but he also contends that the Allies should have bombed Auschwitz to send “a moral message that someone cared about the masses of victims.”
It was, he says, a moral failure of the first degree and that the fight was also for a world where events like the Holocaust could not happen.
They are happening again, and if the world does not act, Israel should not remain a bystander, it should take a moral stand and wipe the crematorium off the map.