It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry at Israel’s sour response to the agreement on Syria’s chemical-weapons disarmament. What is shows is nation-wide infantilism, with a strong stench of hypocrisy. Israelis are behaving like a little kid who had a toy taken from him. We were promised a nice little war and now it’s been taken away from us. That’s the main thing. It’s not important that there’s no need to use military might when the threat of force is enough to accomplish the goal. We Israelis will keep on complaining that President Barack Obama’s abstention from attacking Syria is an expression of his weakness and laziness.
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The United States planned a punitive attack, limited in scope and time, whose purpose was to deter Assad’s regime from repeating the use of chemical weapons against the rebels and the civilian population in places where the rebels are active. Without a single shot being fired, the threat of a military operation accomplished much more — an agreement for the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons, according to a reasonable timetable. The implementation of this agreement will remove a serious military and psychological threat that had loomed over Israel. Not all that long ago, we witnessed the mass hysteria surrounding the distribution of gas masks. Syria’s chemical disarmament changes the rules completely. There is no more need of gas masks, nor of the enormous outlay for their purchase and distribution.
The chemical weapons of Iraq and Libya were dismantled. Iran joined the convention prohibiting the possession of chemical weapons — a convention whose observance is supervised very closely in comparison with other agreements. Theoretically, Egypt has the ability to manufacture chemical weapons, but after many years of neglect it is not clear whether that ability still exists or has value, and the peace treaty with Egypt is stable.
Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, claimed in interviews that Bashar Assad could be believed because he had denied, until now, that Syria possessed chemical weapons. That is an interesting and hypocritical claim from the representative of a country that is not all that transparent or truthful about its own military capabilities. Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz also complained in interviews that the agreement would not lead to the removal of chemical weapons from Syria within a week or two. Steinitz’s statements show his ignorance: how exactly is a country supposed to dismantle roughly one thousand tons of chemical weapons — material that is not exactly convenient to transport — within a week or two during a civil war? Should the strategic affairs minister’s strategic considerations be called into question?
At the same time, some people are weeping and lamenting over the negative implications that the whole episode will have for Iran. Aren’t the messages conveyed by this agreement — that chemical weapons are not effective for the survival of regimes and actually endanger their survival, for example, and that the U.S. and Russia are capable of working together to deal with the danger posed by WMDs — an excellent precedent for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program?
But the most prominent expression of hypocrisy is the complaint that the agreement gives Assad’s regime the go-ahead to massacre his citizens. It nauseates me to hear that from Israelis who rub their hands with glee because, after all, it’s just Arabs killing Arabs. Is Israel willing to do something, even something small, to stop it from happening? Was it ever ready to sacrifice any Israeli interest to stop atrocities of this kind?
It’s easy to blame everything on the U.S. and President Obama and to think that the president is cowardly and lazy because he does not go to war. But he cannot rule out the possibility that the results of war could be worse than the current situation and it is clear that the price of such a war will be high. Two American wars, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, showed just how essential such wise considerations are.
Instead of the childish reactions on our side, perhaps it would be better for Israel to rethink its decision not to sign the chemical-weapons convention.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, is a former deputy director of the National Security Council.