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'Bizarre, But True:' Israel Fails to Learn Lesson of 9/11
While Washington presses Syria to embrace democracy or
face harsher measures, Israeli policy makers seem to prefer the stability of
the present Syrian regime, as long as it stops supporting threatening Israel.
Amazingly, according to this editorial from the Jerusalem Post, Israel has failed
to learn the lesson of 9/11: stability built on dictatorship is likely to ‘blow up in one’s face.’
October 18, 2005
The National Flag of Syria
The Jerusalem Post does not have a "bizarre, but true" section,
but if we had, the report yesterday about official Israeli concerns for
the survival of Syria's regime might have belonged there. A senior diplomatic
official told the Post that "considering the difficulty the U.S. is having in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't think [the U.S.] can handle another regime change in the Middle East."
Israel's preference, the official made clear, is that the
Syrian regime be coerced into abandoning its support for terrorism in Iraq and against Israel, rather than it toppling outright. Even a new relatively
pro-Western regime in Syria, similar to Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority,
might be problematic for Israel as it would invite pressure to "prop him up" by
entering into negotiations over the Golan Heights.
All this murmuring was provoked by reports
that the United States had made Syria an offer the former hopes the latter cannot refuse:
abandoning terrorism in exchange for better relations with the US. In essence, the US seems to be hoping that Syria will go the way of Libya, which abandoned a nascent nuclear program and generally
pledged to become a good international citizen in exchange for the lifting
of international sanctions.
Map of Syria and Environs
The fact that such an ultimatum could
be credibly put forward is a measure of where things stand in the war against
militant Islamism and the tempo of the transformation of the Middle East.
The Syrian regime has come under increasing
pressure, not just by the demise of other radical regimes in Afghanistan
and Iraq and Libya's well-timed capitulation, but from the tightening investigation
of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the
recent "suicide" of the Syrian interior minister, and from President
George Bush's recent speech reviving his own doctrine of regime change.
In other words, what is significant is
not so much the ultimatum itself, but that circumstances have been created
that could make accepting it attractive.
Indeed, for all the talk about fighting
and winning the current global war, little attention is paid to how progress
is to be measured and what key tasks must be accomplished. It is not, of
course, a conventional war with fronts where armies meet and battles are
clearly won or lost. This war, by contrast, should be measured in the number
of terror-supporting regimes that are either replaced or are forced out
of the terror (and nuclear weapons) business.
By this metric, the outcome of America's ultimatum to Syria will tell us much about where the West stands in
beating back the wider jihad against it. At this moment, only Iran represents a greater challenge than Syria within the Muslim world.
In this context, the Israeli reaction
to the Syrian regime's predicament is strange, to say the least. Certainly, Israel's main interest is that Syria stops supporting terrorism. But is there any understanding
in Jerusalem that the regional democratic transformation that
the U.S. is seeking is also in Israel's interest?
Satellite Image of the World Trade Towers on September
Israel is a primary target of this region's radical organizations
and regimes, yet our governing elites, more or less regardless of party,
seem to be living in a pre-9/11 world in which "stability" is
a more cherished goal than the advance of freedom. Put more harshly, the
cause of freedom and democracy beyond our immediate borders is seen negatively,
as a source of "instability."
This "realpolitik" attitude
should be reconsidered. It took 9/11 to bring the U.S. government to the conclusion that stability built
on dictatorships can literally blow up in one's face. Israel had a no less bitter experience with such an approach
when it bet that Yasser Arafat, regardless of his brutal rule and past,
was someone one could trust and deal with.
Yet, unlike the U.S., Israel seems to have drawn no conclusions regarding the
need for regional transformation in order to fundamentally improve its
If Syria is forced into a Libya-style deal with the U.S.,that will be a victory for the West, including Israel. But if Syria refuses, as could well happen, it should be obvious
that Israel should encourage, not stand in the way of, increasing
international pressure on Damascus as much as possible.
If that regime falls, it will once again
prove that Arab radicalism does not pay.
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