Opinion |

Israel's Historic Duty to Act on Syria

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A man carries a wounded child following a suspected chemical attack, northern Idlib province, Syria, April 4, 2017.
A man carries a wounded child following a suspected chemical attack, northern Idlib province, Syria, April 4, 2017.Credit: Uncredited/AP

Sometimes it seems as if there’s no point in stating the obvious, but nowadays, when we are flooded with an unending stream of information and news, both real and tendentious, it’s worth recalling that the most persecuted people in human history has been the Jewish people. Throughout 2,000 years of exile we suffered from pogroms and oppression that climaxed in the seminal catastrophe of the last blood-soaked century, in which the Jewish people lost six million of its sons and daughters.

No one stood up to defend us; the world continued to exist in its silence, books were written and agreements signed. The same world that ignored the Holocaust of European Jewry continued to look away as Hutu militias in Rwanda slaughtered a million Tutsis. True, one mustn’t compare, and there’s no point in comparing, but we have to act, and fast, otherwise we won’t know where to hide ourselves when we are asked what we did during these times.

Some 300 kilometers from the Israeli border with Syria, a catastrophe has been unfolding in recent years. Every so often we see pictures from there, and the world is horrified by the bodies of infants, and then it goes back to business as usual, abandoning the murdered and leaving the arena to humanitarian organizations that for all their good intentions are limited in their resources and in their ability to reach those who need help.

Israel cannot remain silent. We must be the first to break the silence. The first, not just because the slaughter is taking place just over the border, but because the Jewish people has a historic mission from which we are not free to exempt ourselves. This is especially so given that we are the only democracy in the region and have an army that the entire world seeks to learn from. In this instance we cannot sit idly by and do nothing, even if logic dictates that we be cautious about getting involved in other peoples’ wars.

I’m not ignoring the security constraints of a country that is surrounded by enemies. It’s clear to me that a military invasion of Syria is not an option. But there are some things that Israel can do, and not only because of our moral responsibility to the region.

As a first step, Israel must declare a humanitarian corridor and establish a transit camp, containing a field hospital, to be financed by an international fund.

At the same time it must work to put international pressure on Jordan and Turkey to take in orphans and the wounded and to grant them civil status for a period of at least five years.

Israel must also join with other countries to bring a case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, demanding that it employ an expedited procedure to declare President Bashar Assad a war criminal who must be removed from Syria. Such a declaration could break up the alliance between Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who may well join the international coalition that will emerge against the Syrian tyrant.

It is true that the test of leadership falls to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has the military might and the ability to recruit international support for dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons. But Israel must lead in restoring and holding the “red line” on the use of such weapons.

Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have presented Assad with a strategic victory on a silver platter, in direct opposition to Israeli interests. Assad's removal would benefit Israel, both indirectly (by halting arms transfers to Hezbollah) and directly. It is the right thing to do, both strategically and morally.

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