Monday, April 2, 2012

What Can Israel Do About the Suffering in Syria?

A total of 21 people were killed in Syria on Saturday despite President Bashar Assad's acceptance of a six-point plan that calls for an immediate cease-fire with rebels and an eventual democratic transition. According to officials at the United Nations, which is pushing the cease-fire plan, the estimated number of Syrians killed in the 13-month conflict is more than 9,000.

Israel and Syria are still technically at war, with much more than a disputed border separating the two nations. Yet Israelis cannot help but empathize with Syrian civilians bravely fighting the oppressive rule of Assad’s government. Unlike NATO’s intervention in Libya, it doesn’t seem as if the West desires to get involved in Syria’s internal strife. Is there anything that Israel can do to alleviate the suffering in Syria?

Yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Syria has rejected humanitarian aid offered to it by Israel via the Red Cross and the Arab League. I rarely have words of praise for Lieberman, but he is the only minister who has suggested any sort of assistance.

Israel has a moral duty to offer help
Last month, Lieberman said that "the Jewish state cannot sit idly by while horrific acts are taking place in a neighboring country and people are losing all that is dear to them."

Quoted in the media, Lieberman said that even if Israel cannot intervene in what is happening in Syria, it is Israel’s "moral duty to at least offer humanitarian aid and call on the world to put a stop to the massacre."

Lieberman has proposed that Israel condemn Assad’s killing of Syrian civilians and call for his resignation, but both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have insisted that Israel remain silent on these issues. According to media reports, Netanyahu fears that any such Israeli statement would play into Assad’s hands and allow the Syrian president to blame Israel for the revolt of his citizens.

Atrocities in Syria were committed by Syrians
Saudi Arabian journalist Abdulateef Al-Mulhim says that it's a bit "ironic to hear the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offer to help the Syrian people."

In an opinion piece published by Arab News, Al-Mulhim says that the Syrian Spring is the easiest war that Israel ever fought. The journalist dismisses any suggestions that the internal strife in Syria is a Western or Israeli conspiracy, and instead notes that "the atrocities that were committed in Syria by the Syrians surpassed any damage that was inflicted by the Israelis against Syria in full-scale wars."

"Syria is destroyed and Israel didn’t have to fire one single bullet. And I think the worst is not over yet. The atrocities among Syrians will continue, even after the fall of Bashar Assad," Al-Mulhim wrote.

Will the downfall of Assad be beneficial to Israel?
According to analysis offered by Ethan Bronner in the New York Times, Israelis “are torn by two sentiments: The downfall of Mr. Assad would deal a major blow to Iran and so would be welcome. But without a central authority, Syria could descend into being a land of chaos and terrorist bases on Israel’s northeast border.”

In the meantime, lacking the ability to assist the Syrian people and fearful to offer too much vocal support, Israelis remain hopeful that the bloodshed will quickly end and that a new government in Damascus will result in possibilities of peace on Israel’s northern border.

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