Foreign Policy Blogs

Spineless on Syria

WFP Operations in Homs

As tension mounts after Syria’s alleged—though clearly evident—use of chemical weapons to systematically slaughter civilians, outreach against the regime emerged most vocally from the White House and State Department, as well as their counterparts across Europe.

Some voices — namely those from China and Russia — are, as expected, silent or deflecting criticism from the atrocities. Unfortunately, Israel and many of its U.S.-based allies are similarly falling into that camp. (Note: The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called for action in light of the chemical weapons allegations.)

Recent reports suggest that the silence from many in the pro-Israel community stems from two main concerns.

First, Israel, the pro-Israel lobby and the Jewish community were critical generating support for the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. That war lost the public confidence, pinning Israel and its allies in a corner to their support of U.S. engagement.

Second, there are no knights in shining armor in the Syrian conflict. Quite the contrary. Syrian President Basher al-Assad and his supporters have not masked their antipathy for Israel, instead allowing weapons smuggling from Israel’s nemesis Iran to Hezbollah and threatening retaliation against Israel should the U.S. intervene in the civil war. On the other side, the Syrian rebels are not beacons of democracy either. The rebels range from hard line Islamists to army defectors, but no mainstream group has embraced democratic values, providing further indication that Assad’s replacement may change internal policies but not the country’s alignment vis-à-vis Israel.

While both valid points against taking a vocal stance either way, the silence demonstrates that pure political interests — in this case, as in many others — are dominating decisions instead of the values of freedom and the defense of humanity that held Judaism intact for centuries and continues to unite Israel and the United States with a deep, shared bond.

The White House acted on those values — admittedly far too late — by declaring that the systematic slaughter of civilians using chemical warfare is unacceptable and will result in swift, forceful retaliation. The Obama administration quickly made that determination, dismissing the political calculus that Americans are generally reluctant to engage in additional Middle East conflicts and that Syria’s allies in Russia, China and Iran will publicly condemn the United States for its involvement. Instead of allowing those political calculations to dictate policy, values won the day.

The extent of U.S. involvement is yet to be seen, with all signs pointing to a brief and limited intervention that relies primarily on long-range missile strikes and bombings — without ground troops — to destroy the Syrian government’s ability to use weapons of mass destruction on civilians.

Albeit tardy in its involvement, the White House did not shun from the moral imperative for intervention. Far less can be said for Israel and its allies.



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