If you have not been paying attention, the last thing you heard was that Syria had used sarin gas attack on civilians in 2013. President Obama’s “red line” was washed pink in an agreement with Russia to remove the weapons and destroy them at sea. The U.N. Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) special coordinator Sigrid Kaang, in a remarkably precise statement, said 96% percent of Syria’s declared chemical weapons were destroyed. Not 95% or 87% or 43.5%, but 96% on the nose. Secretary of State Kerry said: “In record time, even amid a civil war, we removed and have now destroyed the most dangerous chemicals in the regime’s declared stockpiles.”
It was good PR, but as a solution to a deadly violation of international law, it was a huge, gaping failure. The word “declared” is the giveaway — Syria was allowed to tell inspectors what it had and where, and the inspectors were allowed only to touch those sites. It you think they cheated, you are right.
This week, the Israel Air Force destroyed a “research center” in Syria, one that “researched” chemical weapons. The attack came the morning after U.N. investigators said the Syrian government was responsible for a sarin gas attack in April 2017. Israel has conducted approximately 100 strikes inside Syriain the six years of civil war, not to change the course of battle or support one side over the other, but to eliminate weapons and facilities deemed unacceptable threats to Israel — including missile factories, a nuclear reactor and now a chemical weapons factory.
Here is the lesson. Focus on the real regional threats and push off peripheral issues.
- Iran and its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas — oddly enough, Shiite Iran is Sunni Hamas’s biggest backer both militarily and financially. There are more than 100,000 rockets and missiles in southern Lebanon, controlled by Hezbollah and aimed at Israel.
- Iran and its occupation of Syria, as the Russians seek to nail down their bases but prefer to exercise influence from Moscow without a large military presence in the country. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that Israel’s interests in Syria “would be taken into account,” but with Russia hoping to leave and Iran planning to stay, Russia’s leverage is questionable.
- Iran and its unconventional weapons – it was Iran that facilitated the Syrian chemical weapons program, and Iran and North Korea that built the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel destroyed in 2007.
- Iran’s physical presence in the Sunni areas of Iraq in pursuit of a land-bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea. Iran’s harassment of U.S. and other ships in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, encircling Saudi Arabia in the south and potentially cutting off Israel and Jordan’s access through the Bab el-Mandeb Straits to the Indian Ocean. The “Shiite Crescent” is a “Shiite Encirclement.”
See a pattern?
Those problems must be dealt with directly by countries able to take action — primarily the United States and Israel. President Trump’s March order to bomb Syria’s al Shayrat air base — from which a chemical attack was mounted against Syrian civilians — was an excellent example of focus on the key threats. Use a facility to violate international law on chemical use and you will be punished. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.”
That was Israel’s playbook. Have the world’s greatest sponsor of terror build a facility to do “research” or build chemical weapons in violation of international law, and you will be punished.
Visitors to Israel Miss the Point
In this regional context, the Israel-Palestinian “peace process” is a peripheral issue. UN Chief Antonio Guterres missed the point on his recent visit to Israel. President Trump’s envoys, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt did as well.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and the IDF explained the Hezbollah buildup in Lebanon and the need for a stronger UNIFIL force there. Israel provided evidence of Iran’s buildup of both nuclear capability at home and conventional capability in Syria. Guterres visited Hamas terror tunnels in Gaza where Israel’s UN Ambassador explained what they cost and how life could be better for the Palestinians if Hamas spent Iran’s money on its people rather than weapons. Hamas told Guterres he was “unwelcomed.”
Mahmoud Abbas decided going to Turkey was better than a meeting with the UN Secretary General. Guterres’s hosts trapped him into an unscheduled (read “previously rejected”) meeting with families of terrorists in Israeli jails and then lied about what he said. The PA statement was so preposterous that the UN Secretariat announced that statements from the official Wafa Palestinian news agency were “fabricated.”
With all that information, Guterres’s recommendation was that that Israel freeze “settlement construction”. “There is no Plan B on the two state solution,” he opined.
“If the U.S. team doesn’t bring answers to our questions this time, we are going to look into our options because the status quo is not working for our interests,” Abbas aide Ahmad Majdalani said.
One “option” is to petition the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate Israel for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity since 1967. The American envoys asked the Palestinians to end their diplomatic offensive against Israel and to stop paying terrorist salaries. The Palestinians were noncommittal on the first and said no to the second. According to the New York Times:
“The best Mr. Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and his special envoy, Jason D. Greenblatt, could manage was a two-line statement saying that the Palestinians had agreed not to bolt from the American-led process.”
Guterres, Kushner and Greenblatt focused on the narrowest threat in the Middle East — the possibility that the Palestinians will continue to make low-level warfare against Israel. They ignored the role of Iran and its proxies, with their potential for regional conflagration that could include non-conventional weapons, restrict the flow of oil internationally, damage American allies Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Egypt, and change the balance of power in the region away from the United States and toward Iran for the next decade.
In effect, they performed the role of Nero with his fiddle.
In the worst case, Israel may find itself alone in focusing on the regional threats to its safety and security.