The Syrian conundrum (JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL) 06/11/12)
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Is there nothing the international community can do to stop the
bloodshed in Syria? On Friday, UN monitors described the smell of
burnt flesh and scattered body parts after a visit to the deserted
Syrian hamlet of Mazraat al-Qubeir, where a reported 78 people were
massacred last week. And on Saturday, 17 people, including 10 women,
were killed by shelling in Deraa, the town that sparked the Syrian
uprising. Over the past 15 months since the civil unrest began over
13,000 people have been killed – many of whom were women and
children – and untold thousands have been imprisoned. Over the
weekend alone an estimate 100 were killed.
Yet, the world’s powers seem helpless to work together to stop the
Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) articulated the moral outrage felt
by many when he accused Bashar Assad’s regime of committing a “crime
against humanity” and noted that “the silence of world powers is
contrary to all human logic.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu weighed in too, strongly denouncing
the atrocities being committed in Syria.
It is frustrating – as Jews and as human beings – to stand by while
thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred just a few
hundred kilometers to our north. And this frustration is compacted by
the knowledge that – in this case at least – our political autonomy
does not help us to reach out to the embattled Syrian people. In some
respects, Syrian animosity toward Zionism actually transforms the
Jewish people’s statehood into an obstacle – not a vehicle – to
extending humanitarian aid. Perhaps some Syrians will take up Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s offer of Israeli aid for those who
take refuge in Jordan and other countries with ties to Israel.
But even the international community’s ability to stop the bloodshed
in Syria is limited. The Syrian opposition is a patchwork of diverse
groups. Some are democrats and nationalists. But others are
Islamists, including groups connected to al-Qaida. Turkey and the
Muslim Brotherhood are providing aid to these Islamist elements.
Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are providing Assad’s regime with weapons
There is an understandable desire to strengthen the more “moderate”
elements in the opposition to counterbalance the influence of Iran
and Russia on one hand and Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood on the
But even if doing so is possible, arming the “moderates” might do
nothing more than escalate the bloodshed.
Toppling Assad’s regime – even if it were possible – could lead to
wholesale massacre of the Alawite minority, which is fighting for its
life to keep Assad in power. And bringing to bear the necessary
firepower to truly endanger the Assad regime would embroil the US and
other Western countries in another protracted conflict similar to
ones fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the circumstances, a negotiated settlement remains the best
outcome for both Western interests and the Syrian people.
On the other hand diplomacy is not working. Even the indefatigable
Kofi Annan has all but admitted after nearly two months of futile
attempts to bring about a cease-fire that his six-point plan for
peace in Syria has failed. As long as Assad feels sufficiently secure
in his internal support from ethnic and sectarian minorities
(Alawites and Druse) and external backing from Russian and Iran (and
to a certain extent China), he will have no incentive to stop using
violence and murder to cow the Syrian opposition into submission.
Therefore, ever more stringent economic sanctions against Damascus –
that would indirectly hurt Russia, Iran and China – seem to be the
only option. In addition to the bans already imposed by western
countries on imports of Syrian oil and on new foreign investment in
Syria, and the freezing of Assad’s and his cronies’ assets,
additional steps need to be taken to cut off Syria altogether from
international capital flows.
There are no easy solutions in Syria. But doing nothing at all is not
an option. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 06/11/12)
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