by David Lentz
Anyone who's ever bowled knows that the worst combination after the first ball in a frame is the dreaded 7-10 split, with pins on the furthermost corners, all the way in the back. It's an almost impossible shot — for amateurs anyway.
I don't want to draw the analogy too closely, but the Administration has been handed a bowling ball which, if used properly, can contribute mightily to a simultaneous strike against the worst "pins" in the Middle East: Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Throw in Hamas just for good measure since they receive significant Syrian help too.
This past weekend, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, referring to the potential fall of Syria's Assad, said: "It will damage these [i.e., Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas] radical axes and they will make them somehow weaker. It will weaken Hezbollah, it will weaken Hamas. In this regard, it’s good, but it’s not just for Israel but I believe it’s good for the Middle East as a whole."
So, if there is a single event that might strike a simultaneous blow against the Middle East's "Axis of Evil" one might assume that the United States would be leading the charge, if not openly (to avoid the impression that the revolt in Syria is American or Israeli-led, inspired, or financed). After all, President Obama was one of the first voices calling for Mubarak to resign and yield to the Arab Spring roiling his country. If Mubarak was jettisoned despite a record of supporting the "cold peace" with Israel and providing actual help on the U.S. war on terror, surely Assad should be treated more harshly by the Administration.
Here is where our government stacks up so far. The Administration has publicly and repeatedly committed itself against the use of force in Syria. Well, that's understandable given how war fatigued we are with Middle East disputes. But in the more delicate world of diplomacy and strategy, why make that commitment publicly? Why make it now?
Assad hears it and he knows what it means.
The U.S. has very little at stake in this fight and will not participate or initiate the use of force (unlike in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait. and Lebanon, to mention a few recent conflicts in the Middle East that were important enough to U.S. interests).
Russia and China hear it and they know what it means. The UN, European Union, and other world bodies will not create multilateral action. The world's options are limited to public criticism and sanctions, both of which have had no result at all in Syria.
Turkey hears it and has to figure that if its vital interests are threatened from the Syrian civil war, it will have to confront Syria alone even though it is a member of NATO.
So we're not using or participating in the use of force and everyone knows it. Are there other things we can do to help influence the outcome?
The Syrian opposition to Assad, the Syrian National Council, was accorded the stature and prestige of meeting with the Arab League a few weeks ago, an important signal to the world that the Arab countries have rejected Assad in a public and irrevocable manner.
The Russians have met with the Syrian National Council. The British Foreign Minister announced this weekend it will meet with the council. The council is based in Paris and France announced in Ynet last week that it is helping the opposition to Assad to get organized.
What has the U.S. done with this “gift” of an internal Syrian threat to Assad’s life and regime? We haven’t called for a meeting with the Syrian National Council to discuss a “post-Assad Syria” even with our lowest level diplomats.
Instead, our Secretary of State said last week that, "We hate to see [a potential civil war with organized and well financed defectors] because we are in favor of a peaceful protest and non violent opposition."
What? Please say that again? Thousands of Syrians are slaughtered by the Assad regime and the best we can muster is the parties should really stop fighting because we "hate" to see a civil war? What is happening in Syria is mass slaughter by tanks, armored personnel carriers, and air strikes by Assad, not a "potential" nasty civil war. Our Secretary of State should be loud and clear about the difference.
Have we even undertaken symbolic steps to delegitimize Assad's government? We removed our ambassador for security reasons. Why not publicly announce he's been withdrawn until legitimate government is restored to Syria? France has done so.
If we are totally committed to abstaining from the use of force, how about letting Assad know that we are making our satellite imaging available to the opposition? At a minimum, since Assad forbids any outside reporters, our technology should be made available to help inform the world and document Assad's use of massive force in the face of civilian opposition.
Many would urge caution because we do not know what might follow Assad. Point taken. But can anything be worse than the current situation?
Iran uses Syria to attack Israel virtually every single day through Hamas and Hezbollah. If this alliance weakens from the establishment of a Sunni government in Syria, even one opposed to Israel, the fall of the "7 and 10" pins will make Israel's position (and the day-to-day lives of Israelis) measurably better.