Commentary Magazine


Wake Up and Smell the Arabic Coffee

Even Israeli leaders are calling for stronger Western action against Syria. In the wake of the Houla massacre, Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized the expulsions of Syrian diplomats as inadequate and said, “More concrete action is required. These are crimes against humanity and it’s impossible that the international community is going to stand aside.”

On one level this might not seem terribly surprising—Syria is, after all, in a longstanding state of war with Israel, and the Assad regime has long been a leading backer of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other anti-Israeli terrorist groups. So it makes sense that Israeli leaders would call for tougher action against Assad. Except that for years Israeli leaders have viewed the Assad regime as a bulwark of stability and have dismissed calls for supporting the opposition. I remember a few years ago having an argument with a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem on this very issue; he dismissed my suggestion that it would be better for Assad to go as the fantasy of an American who did not have to live next door to Syria.

Now even the Israelis realize that the Assads deliver a faux stability and that their removal actually has the potential—not the certainty but the potential—to improve the strategic outlook for Israel while hurting Israel’s main enemy, Iran. If only the Obama administration had reached a similar conclusion.

Instead, even in the wake of the latest atrocities, the president and his aides are still locked in diplomatic never-never land where the magical intervention of Kofi Annan or Vladimir Putin will somehow resolve the situation. They should wake up and smell the Arabic coffee. Only American-led action has any chance of ending the killing anytime soon.

There is no mystery about what it would take: provide arms, communications gear and other important help to the more moderate factions of Syrian rebels; help them to become better organized; support Turkey in establishing safe zones inside Syria; and possibly commit to using air strikes, either to defend the safe zones or to strike regime targets. Yet there is little sign the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to such steps. Thus, the killing goes on.

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