Depressing deductions from the war in Syria

The insane and endless war in Syria might as well be taking place on another planet, for all the West cares, and that is not the only lesson to be learned from the conflict.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

OpEds Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Eliran Aharon

For the past five years, a war in which everyone is fighting everyone else has been raging in what was once called Syria. At least half a million people are dead, two million injured, five million - about half the population – have become refugees, some within the country, others outside it. And there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. The ceasefire is falling apart, the mass murders continue, and it's as if Syria is located on some other planet and no one sees or hears what is going on there.

This is nothing new. What's new is the disclosure by military and defense analyst Amos Harel that the Haaretz newspaper ran as its headline on May 2: "The escalation in Syria: Assad has begun using chemical weapons again." The subtitle said: "The Syrian army used chemical weapons, most probably deadly sarin gas against ISIS fighters who attacked government property near Damascus." Chemical weapons? Sarin? Wasn’t an agreement signed in September 2013, barely three years ago – between the USA and Russia – in which it was agreed that all the chemical weapons in Assad's possession after the massacre of August 2013 would be destroyed?

As a result of the agreement and the destruction of the poisonous substances the US government managed to avoid fulfilling its commitment to act against Assad if he crossed certain red lines, that is, if he used chemical weapons against his own citizenry. The Americans even set aside a special ship whose purpose was to destroy the poisonous gases and liquids out at sea, but it has now become clear that Assad held on to a substantial amount of chemical weapons allowing him to wage chemical warfare against his enemies. He may have held on to the means of manufacturing chemical weapons as well. If so, why bother to sign agreements that are not worth the paper they are printed on in today's world?

None the less shocking is the fact that the world has done nothing, despite realizing that the agreement is a worthless piece of paper, even though the agreement stipulates that the UN Security Council will enforce it if Assad does not live up to his commitment.

The impression I get is that much of the West would not lose any sleep if the Arab world, and the entire Muslim world with it, was wiped off the map in a war of mass destruction.
Unfortunately, this agreement joins a good many others that the West has signed, but not enforced. An important example is the December 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the Western Powers promised to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine if it gives up the nuclear weaponry it was supposed to have received as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union. What did the countries who signed the  memorandum do about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and against its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine, in 2014? Not a thing. What is the Budapest Memorandum worth? Nothing. What are commitments and agreements made by the West worth? Everyone knows the answer to that question by now.

The issue is even worse when it affects the lives of so many in the third world and in particular, those in the Arab states. The West does nothing to stop the mass murders in Syria, has done nothing about the mass murders in Iraq, Libya and Yemen that have been going on unchecked for the past several years.  

The problem in Yemen is clear and so is its solution: a strong stand against Iran, which supports the rebels, and against Saudi Arabia, which supports the president, would have brought the hostilities to an end a long time ago, but the world – and particularly the Western part of it – are sick and tired of the Arab world's problems. The impression I get is that much of the West would not lose any sleep if the Arab world, and the entire Muslim world with it, was wiped off the map in an all-out war of mass destruction.

The war in Syria gave the world Islamic State, once called Daesh or ISIL. The entire world was aware of the thousands of volunteers, radical Muslims eager for battle, who were flooding into the Jihad fields of Syria and Iraq by way of Turkey. Every intelligence agency knew that Erdogan was helping them infiltrate into Syria to join those battling his arch-enemy, Assad. What did the world do to convince or force Turkey to cease doing this? Nothing. So who is to blame for the rapid expansion of Islamic State? Turkey alone? Or is the answer an entire slew of Western states that knew all too well the part Turkey played in smuggling Jihadists into Syria, knew that Turkey purchases Islamic State oil - because some of them do the same - knew about the arms smuggling through Turkey to Islamic State – and did nothing about it?

Worst of all is the way the world behaves towards Iran, a country which should be held responsible for a good part of the Syrian catastrophe. Iran supports Assad, a mass murderer, in every way it can: thousands of Iranian soldiers and others who came through Iran are actively fighting the rebels, massive amounts of cash travel from Iran to Syria in order to allow Assad to buy supporters in a country where there is hardly anything left to purchase with that money. Iran has injected its Lebanese cohorts, the Hezbollah, into the fray and that terrorist organization has lost thousands of fighters on the land that was once Syria.

Why is the world silent in the face of Iranian aid to mass murder? Why did the world run to sign a nuclear pact with Iran and remove the economic sanctions placed upon it? So that the hundreds of billions of dollars Iran receives can add to the fires of terror it fans in Syria, Iraq and any other place where it can buy friends?

In the Middle East, the most miserable place on this earth, Israel can survive not by the strength of its rights but by right of its strength.
The West's behavior, led by the United States, in the face of the mass murders taking place in the Middle East, must turn on not only a red light but a powerful projector in order to open the eyes of Israel and its friends all over the world. The most important conclusion that Jews and Israelis must reach is to never rely on any commitment, on any agreement, oral or signed, when it comes to our own security, because when the moment of truth arrives our friends are liable to behave exactly as they did seventy years ago. Then, they were well aware that millions of Jews were being systematically murdered and did nothing to stop the genocidal Nazi machine.

Politicians, academics, artists and many public figures in the West lose no opportunity to attack Israel for what that country is forced to do to fight terror, but are struck dumb when the subject is crimes against humanity perpetrated anywhere else in the Middle East.

The double standard with which they judge Israel has to be the basis of Israel's political and military behavior, especially when the subject is "Peace agreements" signed in the Middle East – pieces of paper that only the US and Europe view with a modicum of seriousness and have no intention of enforcing anyway.

Only Israel knows and will know how to best protect itself. Israel must never rely on any of its so-called friends, because the cynicism and hypocrisy that characterize international politics when the time comes to activate agreements mean that only strength – of the kind Russia is using in Syria and Ukraine – has any significance. Pacts and commitments are only pieces of paper blown away by the wind just when they are most needed, unless they meet the immediate interests of whoever has signed them.

In today's world, only the strong survive, not because of the agreements they and others have signed but because of the price they can exact from anyone who does not live up to his commitments. In the Middle East, the most miserable place on this earth, Israel can survive not by the strength of its rights but by right of its strength. The best situation, in fact, would be a combination of the two: Israel's right to its land, backed by the strength it must use to assert that right.  

The war in Syria must teach the Israelis a basic lesson in international politics, and they had better draw the right conclusions from the Syrian catastrophe, if they wish to continue to live.

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva Op-ed and Judaism editor.