Acknowledging Both Horns of the Syrian Dilemma

After weeks of grotesque and embarrassing talk, the international community is now addressing the complexity and combustibility of the Syrian crisis.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

What were we facing? A perplexing and heartrending dilemma. On the one hand, a chemical attack against civilians, unlike anything that had occurred for a generation; roughly 1,400 men, women and children slaughtered by means of weapon of mass destruction, an act of brutality that undermined international law and the international order. It posed a precedent that, if overlooked, could turn the world into a jungle of unconventional weapons.

On the other hand, there was an inherent danger involved in an attack on Syria, the first assault of its kind on a country with a giant stockpile of chemical weaponry. The fact is that an assault on Syrian President Bashar Assad could lead to his sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve gas stockpiles falling into the hands of an Al-Qaida off-shoot of one kind or another. And then there is the realization that the result of the firing of American Tomahawk missiles against an evil regime would be unpredictable while other evil forces are lying in wait at its doorstep.

On the far-left, however, there were no qualms, no dilemma. For the three weeks after an Arab ruler committed a clear war crime against Arab civilians, those "Friends of the Arabs" in Israel and around the world maintained their silence. Those same Americans, Europeans and Israelis who usually so readily express their moral outrage didn't feel or express moral outrage at all in the face of the images of the horrors coming out of Damascus. Those same people who had demanded in the past that Israel Defense Force officers be put on trial in The Hague over the occupation weren't now demanding that the Syrian dictator be sent to The Hague over a massacre carried out with chemical weapons. A nagging silence has prevailed among the camp of those enlightened ones - total silence.

In the view of the far-left, it is only Western and Jewish countries that are barred from the use of force. Non-Western and non-Jewish states on the other hand are allowed to use force. According to the extreme immoral left, Arabs are allowed to murder other Arabs at will.

On the other hand, there has also been a group itching for a fight and it too has felt no dilemma over the situation. Punitive military action against a sarin-armed power would be unprecedented and dangerous and could only be reasonably carried out through one of two approaches. One would involve a limited operation involving the targeted killing of the Syrian army officers who deployed the chemical weapons, an operation that would set a visible and clear example. The second approach would involve accepting an idea proposed by former IDF GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant to undertake the lengthy and extensive process of replacing the Assad regime with a moderate Sunni government.

But the trigger-happy factions in Washington, Paris and Tel Aviv were not inclined to fully comprehend the dangers inherent in the situation in Syria. They were acting as if they didn't understand to what an extent what they were advocating could lead to unexpected results. Just as the far-left was ignoring one horn of the dilemma, this aggressive faction was oblivious to the other horn. The justifiable moral outrage that this second group felt and the broad strategic responsibility that they demonstrated made them overlook the inherent danger posed by Syria's proven capacity to carry out mass extermination.

As it stands now, recent developments have been for the better. Despite his hesitancy, U.S. President Barack Obama ultimately understood the challenge he was facing. And despite his cynicism, Russian President Vladimir Putin put an outstanding proposal on the table. The combination of American military pressure and Russian diplomatic creativity produced the correct approach toward a resolution of the crisis. Will it be carried out? That's highly doubtful, but after the grotesque and embarrassing events of recent weeks, the international community has come up with an idea that does not pay heed to the appeasers, nor does it follow the aggressive approach. Instead, it addresses the complexity and combustibility of the Syrian crisis.

The Syrian issue is still not behind us. There is no way of knowing what is going to happen in Damascus or Washington or at the United Nations. But what we face in the future is Iran. If Obama, Putin and the international community learn their lesson from dealing with the little Syrian Satan, they can also deal with the great Iranian one. But to do that, Putin must halt his provocations and Obama needs to act like President John Kennedy and not Jimmy Carter. It is only a combination of military pressure and diplomatic initiative that can still get Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to forgo his dream of weapons of mass destruction. As difficult as the Syrian dilemma may be, the Iranian dilemma is many times more difficult. And there is an obligation to deal with both horns in a creative, courageous and reasoned manner.

Tomahawk missile: Their use against Syria could have unpredictable results.Credit: Reuters

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