Foreign Policy Blogs

The Syrian Match

Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad might soon face a firing squad of U.S. missiles, fighter jets and aircraft carriers in the wake of hundreds, if not thousands, of murders on the streets of Damascus and throughout the country. While Assad’s actions might lead to sanctions or another non-military response, the situation could escalate — like it did with Libya — into  a military campaign in support of the so-called Arab Spring.

While some members of Congress are pressing for U.S. involvement, a military campaign to depose Assad could light the match of war that has threatened the Middle East, and Israel in particular, by creating a paradigm that pits the rest of the region against the West, using Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as the main battleground.

Even though Syria is an Arab country ruled by an Alawi, who some Muslims consider heretics, the country still has a prominent ally in the region that could jump at the prospect of using another country’s people as pawns during a war. Any attack on Syria could be spun as an attack on Arabs and Muslims, and the Persian Iran would likely have no qualms fueling resistance to its two chief enemies — the United States and Israel.

Iran has regularly supplied weapons to terrorist groups — including Hamas and Hezbollah — and maintains a strong relationship with Syria. Rulers of that country, which is undergoing some internal strife, still use any opportunity to strike at their enemies through proxies. The common saying on Iran is that they will fight until the last Arab, but not the last Persian.

A U.S. led assault on Syria would set up that paradigm, where the “expendable” Syrians in the eyes of the Iranians could wage a war against Israel and the West without, hopefully for them, sacrificing Iranian lives. The Iran government could, as it has done with terrorist groups, supply weapons to the Syrian government and turn the Syrian military or even Syrian people into a front for an all-out war on Israel.

The Egyptians, who at one point formed the short-lived pan-Arab state — the United Arab Republic — could also join the fray, as the government has recently taken a more hard-line approach in relation to Israel. The Egyptian decision to open the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is highly likely to funnel more weapons into terrorist hands for use against Israeli civilians, and Israel will likely hold the Egyptians accountable.

Israel already has a low-level tacit war with Hezbollah and terrorists in the West Bank, therefore Israel will be under siege in this scenario from all directions.

Many Israelis are convinced that the next major conflict in the Middle East and strike on Israel will result in a completely new war paradigm, where Tel Aviv is sucked into the violence and not just the northern or southern peripheries of the country. No Israeli would be safe, and Israel would fight tooth and nail, and possibly even nuclear if its existence were threatened.

The prospects of a U.S. strike on Syria could be gaining ground. Just yesterday, an influential group of Senators called on the administration to respond, albeit not explicitly calling for, at least not yet, a military strike.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Assad has clearly ignored President Barack Obama’s mandate that he cease abusing human rights, therefore the administration should help oust the Syrian dictator.

In the event the administration, and members of Congress, decide that U.S. intervention in Syria is essential, they should consider that they might be playing with a powder keg that could put U.S. and Israeli lives in danger by igniting an all-out regional war, where Iran becomes a puppeteer.

Unlike Libya, the consequences of Syria are much greater. A U.S. decision to strike should include close coordination with the Israeli military to ensure that Israel is ready to defend its people and its existence from an invasion from all directions.

Follow me on Twitter: @benmoscovitch



Ben Moscovitch
Ben Moscovitch

Ben Moscovitch is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter and has covered Congress, homeland security, and health care. He completed an intensive two-year Master's in Middle Eastern History program at Tel Aviv University, where he wrote his thesis on the roots of Palestinian democratic reforms. Ben graduated from Georgetown University with a BA in English Literature. He currently resides in Washington, D.C. Twitter follow: @benmoscovitch

Areas of Focus:
Middle East; Israel-Palestine; Politics