Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently recommended that the government denounce the killing of Syrian civilians, and call for Bashar Assad to be removed from power. According to a report by Barak Ravid in Haaretz, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has adopted this position. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was against it, claiming that such statements would only play into the hands of Assad.
Lieberman was right: Israel must denounce the slaughter in Syria regardless of geo-political consequences. The fact that most regional forces would rather distance themselves from Jerusalem – even if we’re just talking about public statements – should not serve as an excuse not to do the right thing (and not just in a mild speech at the UN). Furthermore, dealing with a massacre taking place across the border would serve as another acknowledgment that Israel, and Israelis, are part of the Middle East, and as such, share the concerns of other people living in the region. It is the kind of psychological shift the local public discourse should have made years ago.
I believe we should support any diplomatic initiative against the Assad regime and any humanitarian aid to Syrian citizens. If asked to do so, Israel should also aid refugees from Syria should any arrive at its northern border.
Regarding Western military intervention, the case is less clear. My political instinct is against a NATO-lead military operation (naturally, Israel wouldn’t be part of such an intervention, if it were to take place). The more I read and learn about humanitarian military interventions, the less certain I am about them. The road to democracy can be bloody, and I am not sure that NATO’s bombers can offer the desired short-cut.
I tend to agree with Israeli blogger Yoni Eshpar [Hebrew link]: The West should engage with Syria in coordination with the Arab League, and try to find ways to shield civilians, end violence and allow for meaningful reforms. Perhaps if Russia is invited to take part in those initiatives, they would have a better chance to succeed. I know it doesn’t sound like much – sending bombers is much more satisfying – but removing Assad is the easy part, and we need to think about the day(s) after.
My position is not about Syrian sovereignty – I am for political activism the transcends national borders – but rather about the ability or willingness of Western military powers to serve the long-term interests of other nations.