Saturday, August 31, 2013

Helter Shelter

by Ruthie Blum

As of late Thursday night, the British House of Commons voted against participating in a military strike on Syria. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice are presenting evidence to Congress that chemical weapons were, in fact, used against civilians in Syria -- and that it was President Bashar Assad's henchmen behind them.

It has been reported that whether or not Obama receives congressional or U.N. Security Council approval, he intends to go ahead with his plan to teach Assad a lesson. Yes, the worst president in American history, who bragged about leading the multinational 2011 attack on Libya "from behind," is now boasting about going it alone in Syria. 

Simultaneously, however, he says he has yet to make up his mind about actually going through with it. He has clarified, as well, that the goal of such an operation, if it takes place at all, is neither to topple Assad nor to drag the U.S. into a "quagmire" with American troops on the ground. No, assures Obama, at most, a few cruise missiles will be launched from the naval destroyers parked in the Mediterranean, awaiting orders.

With all this distraction and diversion created by Assad and Obama, Syria's patron saint Iran is on its merry, unfettered way to nuclearization. And to keep the international community from interfering with this process, both Syria and Iran have threatened to pummel Israel if the United States makes a military move.

Israelis have thus been storming gas mask distribution centers and cleaning out bomb shelters, waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Or not. 

On one hand, Israeli government and IDF Homefront Command officials keep telling the public to go about its business as usual. On the other, IDF actions -- such as calling up a number of reserve units and moving Iron Dome batteries into position -- seem to contradict the soothing words.

Due to this inherent paradox, Israeli supermarkets have been even busier than they normally are at this time of year, on the eve of the High Holidays. Though equally concerned about food preparation for the in-laws and Syrian bombs, shoppers are stocking up on extra supplies -- just in case there aren't enough leftovers after Rosh Hashana to last through a war. 

This kind of confusion would be comical if lives were not on the line. Still, Israelis have been seeing the humor in Obama's "Keystone Kop" behavior, making fun of his statement that a potential U.S. military strike should wait until after Labor Day. 

"What's that about?" some have asked. "Is he worried about missing the sales at Walmart?" Others have suggested that the U.S. president might want to consult with Assad on the time-table for an American sortie over Damascus. You know, as a goodwill gesture ahead of a "negotiated diplomatic resolution" to the Syrian civil war.

Had former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert given Assad the heads-up about Operation Orchard -- the Israel Air Force raid six years ago that wiped out Syria's nuclear reactor -- the whole mission would have been compromised. If it had failed, we Israelis would not be able to rely on simple gas masks to protect ourselves from today's wrath of the devil in Damascus.

This and other security-related differences between Israel and the United States struck a chord this week with an American delegation of law enforcement and firefighting personnel, on a fact-finding tour of the country.

This delegation -- led by U.S. Congressman Dave Reichart (R-Wash.), a former sheriff, SWAT team commander, hostage-negotiations commander and bomb disposal unit chief -- met with a group of Israeli journalists in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Though Reichart did not specify his stance on an American strike against Syria, he did note that his delegation's trip to the Israel-Syria border made a profound impression on all of them. 

"The experience here has given us a great understanding of how small Israel is," he said. "Americans don't understand this. We are surrounded by two oceans and friends. We don't have to deal with the kinds of threats that you Israelis live with every day."

Indeed. And those threats have Iran's signature all over them.

It is this harsh reality that Obama should be presenting to Congress and that British Prime Minister David Cameron should have been stressing in his appeal to Parliament. But confronting the head of the snake would require far greater resolve than sending a few cruise missiles to whistle by Assad's presidential palace. 

If this is Obama's exercise in muscle-flexing, it will be an exercise in futility.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

Ruthie Blum


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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