Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada)

(The below is a response which was meant to go into the comment section of an article on Electronic Intifada, but I decided to put it here since it was too long to go into a single comment and preferred not to post it in multiple ones. It concerns the position of Israel in the Syrian conflict as covered in the article)

I think Israel’s position has been far more nuanced and balanced than has often been made clear. When it states “ Israel has no horse in the Syrian conflict”, that is a simplification since it assumes passivity.  Remember however that it also claimed that it didn’t have a horse in Iran-Iraq, even whilst it supported Iran (Iran-Contra affair), and even though the reality was that it didn’t like either (except if one goes into the conspiracy theory territory of Iran and Israel being the best of friends beneath the surface). Let us not forget either that Israel supported Hamas in the 80s. It is not alien for Israel to support its would-be enemies for short-term benefit. However, the scale of the support must always be examined, and the scale is never to empower these enemies, but to allow them to harm other enemies who may be at a stronger position at that point in time (and themselves in the process).

A few recent developments should be noted at the get-go; Israel has recently coming out threatening the Nusra Front, and there is a lot talk of military intervention to protect the Syrian Druze flying around in Israeli media (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11681860/Israel-threatens-military-intervention-in-Syrias-civil-war.html / http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Israel-sends-message-to-Nusra-Front-Cease-attacks-on-Syrias-Druse-406183). Secondly and more importantly, it has come out (and been overwhelmingly ignored) that Israel saved the Assad regime from airstrikes in 2013 by the US, in which the deal where the regime would give up its chemical stockpile in exchange for being spared from attack was in fact its proposal, which it said it kept quiet until released in the memoirs of an Israeli minister a few days ago (http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-06-15/israel-helped-obama-skirt-red-line-on-syria / ) . It is quite surprising that this has not been mentioned more widely, not least considering the controversy a title such as ‘Israel saved Bashar Al-Assad’ would create.

Regarding the article, there’s a few things to address. Firstly, Israel has treated anyone coming out of the Golan, it is part of its propaganda campaigns that then allows Netenyahu to proclaim it loudly. It has also said that it has treated Syrian army soldiers, although it is likely that more opposition fighters cross into Israel because they lack the medical facilities that the Syrian army has (also there are more opposition fighters in the area). It also makes sense that the majority of those are fighters, since civilians have probably fled the fighting areas. Israel has also routinely treated Palestinian victims of its bombings in Gaza for PR value, including Hamas fighters (http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/18745/idf-opens-field-hospital-treat-wounded-palestinians/#GQEOVCvEqg81aTya.97 / https://www.standwithus.com/news/article.asp?id=1671 / http://www.timesofisrael.com/once-inside-israels-hospitals-the-terrorist-becomes-the-patient/ /.

Secondly; ultimately the fact that Israel would like two sides to destroy each other is not that surprising, from day one of the uprising we have said that would be Israel’s policy, and that it would ultimately actually prefer Assad to come out on top. The fact that Israel would support (with very limited support it should be made clear) those fighting a historical enemy in Hezbollah is not that surprising either, Hezbollah is well-armed, rebels aren’t, and so it creates a balance of power. But neither does this even mean that Israel would prefer rebels to come out on top in this conflict against Hezbollah, rather it just wants Hezbollah to be hurt. For if it wanted Hezbollah to be *defeated* it had a golden opportunity to hit Hezbollah at its weakest most distracted point a few months ago when a flare-up happened. This would have put so much national pressure on Hezbollah (its invasion in Syria is unpopular even amongst many of its supporters) that it would have had to reroute its energies to defending Lebanon rather than helping Assad. But both sides let each other know that this was not their intention to escalate, and no escalation happened. If Israel wanted to give Hezbollah a decisive blow it would’ve hit it there and then, it was the opportune strategic moment. But instead it left it alone even when its soldiers got killed in a retaliatory attack by Hezbollah (after the airstrike against the IRG-Hezbollah convoy). Since when does Israel not take an excuse to respond to such ‘provocations’, regardless of whether it initiated them or not? In a different situation it would’ve bombed the s**t out of Lebanon, but it didn’t.

Meanwhile why Israel would strike those in the first place is really a straight-forward matter, if you have an opportunity to give your opponents a few slaps whilst they’re down then you do, but when Hezbollah responded it made a very pragmatic choice not to escalate (which is what Hezbollah also wanted). Israel also often attacked Egypt even after the Camp David accords, not because it wanted the collapse of the regime, but because it can, it’s what Israel does. That didn’t mean however that it would not back that regime if it came under internal threat.

Ultimately all this is in keeping with the US-Israeli position (although there are some variances between them) throughout this conflict, which has been to maintain a balance of power, or in other words a balance of destruction between the two sides. The US has routinely, contrary to popular myth, blocked rather than facilitated military supplies to the opposition, and has also bombed major factions which were both anti-ISIS and anti-Assad, both mainstream and extremist (Islamic Front and Nusra Front – it should be kept in mind that a massive number of those fighters are pragmatic not ideological ones, in other words their natural place would be in the FSA if it had better funding, and this is of course something known by the US – http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/11/us-led-air-raids-target-syria-rebel-groups-2014116123052671427.html / http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/06/us-strikes-ahrar-al-sham-syria_n_6113772.html). Israel has traditionally not done so because it does not want to appear on the same side of a regime it has repeatedly used to deflect attention from itself, and would hurt it in PR terms a lot.

Yet, now that ISIS has risen Israel has shifted a lot its propaganda focus from Assad onto ‘Islamic militarism’, and whilst it has facilitated that to a small extent (as it did when it essentially formed Hamas in the 80s), it can now come out and threaten rebels clearly without fear of appearing on the same side as Assad (as it has recently done), since popular conception has shifted towards him (something which could be seen even in comments here) and there is less ‘tainting’ of being aligned with Assad than being aligned with the Islamist-influenced opposition (which has been bundled together as ‘ISIS’, regardless of the reality of the conflict between them). Israel is not unique in this regard and if there was one single party that has consistently bolstered the rise of ISIS in Syria it has been the regime (most recently as highlighted by Al-Monitor today – http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/06/syria-aleppo-regime-army-assad-support-isis-marea-tlalin.html).

Most recently it has emerged that the US has asked that a chosen thousand number of rebels chosen for a training program sign a declaration not to fight Assad; they refused and withdrew from the program (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4670483,00.html / http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/31/key-rebels-ready-to-quit-u-s-fight-vs-isis.html. This US policy has not been a change, it has always requested that the handful of rebels (numbering in hundreds) that it started providing limited support in 2014 fight ISIS rather than Assad (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/11/syrian-rebels-we-ll-use-u-s-weapons-to-fight-assad-whether-obama-likes-it-or-not.html / / http://news.yahoo.com/syria-rebels-cast-doubt-us-training-program-173500650.html), but it has rarely come out and put in so blatantly as it has as in asking to sign a contract.

I also disagree with the statement that Israel finds the Shia Islamists more threatening than the Sunni ones (I don’t speak of ISIS when I speak of the Sunni Islamists, which, as a leader of the Islamic Front in Syria said, ‘if it had an opportunity to go to Palestine it would attack Hamas before it attacked Israel’ – there is possibly more than 100,000 self-describing ‘Islamists’ (i.e. those who identify as Muslim politically), and the vast majority of them despise ISIS). If that were the case it would have facilitated Assad’s collapse, it has done nothing of the sort and restricted its interventions to very limited number of strikes targeting things that could be of military benefit to Hezbollah. In so doing it has actually allowed Iran to gain a ever tighter foothold in Syria with the influx of allied militias and the weakening of the Syrian army, which combined has now allowed Iran to have a stranglehold on the Syrian state.

Israel’s biggest worry and the closest point it came to intervention in this conflict (before now) was when there was prospect that chemical weapons would drop into rebel hands. Israel never feared that Assad would use them, after all he never did (and never would). It wasn’t when Hezbollah or Iran flocked into the country in the thousands. As a Syrian friend told me, Assad saved himself when he gave away his chemical weapons, which were not his to give away but brought from the money of the people. Regardless of the fact that I am no fan of chemical weapons, the fact remains that it was a threat to Israel that was sacrificed with as it turns out, Israel’s coordination. Israel did not want Assad hit, it wanted Assad to lose his chemicals out of fear of them dropping into unfriendly hands. We should not think that mass-murderers have some kind of moral problem with one another, they just allow them to divert focus from each other. This is why as it turned out that Israel saved Assad.

Ultimately all this should not divert from the reasons and values of why we support the Palestinians, which is a rejection of the type of things that Israel does, from bombing, population cleansing, starvation, arbitrary arrests and torture. We do not dislike Israel because they are Jews but because of what we have grown up seeing them do to our brethren. Ultimately when we see the same thing happen to our brethren, whether in Iraq, Syria or Egypt (where I’m from) we feel the same sympathy. Palestine will be an ever-present issue in our lives so long as its occupied, even if it takes second place from time to time behind more pressing catastrophes occurring at that period such as in Iraq or Syria, it will always be a constant.

Thus whilst Syria should not distract from Palestine as this is what Israel wants and would allow its ethnic cleansing to go ahead unimpeded, neither should our attention be diverted to such an extent from the fact that there has been no regime that has come close to representing Israel’s than Assad’s. He comes second to Israel in the number of Palestinians he has killed. He has tortured more Palestinians to death than Israel could ever hope to do (http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/09/19/faces-of-our-dead-photos-of-the-palestinians-tortured-to-death-by-syrian-regime/). He has employed exactly the same tactics of starvation of civilian areas under the excuse of them being ‘held hostage by terrorists’; indeed his opponents have had to dig tunnels to try and circumvent those sieges (and those tunnels been labelled ‘terrorist’ tunnels). He has carpet-bombed civilian areas to the ground for four years unimpeded. It has stopped people returning to its homes (such as the famous uprising Baba Amr neighbourhood in Homs). For the past four years we have watched Syrian women and men scream in cameras ‘where are the Arabs? Where are the Muslims’ with rubble behind them in exactly the same way that they do in Gaza. If Zionism did not mean ‘Jewish nationalism’ Assad’s state would be the archetypal example of its Arab form.

The fact remains that Hezbollah is now knees-deep in Palestinian blood, and I would like it if such outlets like EI are brave enough to call it and Iran on its betrayal of the Palestinian people, and call on it to put their actions where their mouths are, how can they be pro-Palestinian when they refuse to take off sieges of Palestinians, which according to someone who has recently visited Yarmouk and previously Gaza, has been multiple times worse than Gaza? Through doing this campaign and put pressure on it to stop the regime starving and torturing the Palestinians under its mercy (to say nothing about the Syrians).

[Let us also not forget that Assad and Israel were on the verge of completing a peace treaty which would have been Obama’s legacy in 2011 (he now has the Iran deal as his legacy), a peace treaty in which Assad said he was willing to stop supporting Hamas and this was interrupted actually by the uprising, and have enjoyed trade deals through the Syrian Druze that Israel is now using as a precursor to intervene due to their links with the Israeli Druze, for many years (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0921/Assad-harvests-support-from-Druze-in-Israel-with-apples) – as has, for that matter, Iran (http://foreignpolicy.com/2008/04/07/has-israel-been-buying-iranian-oil/ / http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4075900,00.html).]

The failure of the Palestine solidarity movement in the West to follow the lead of the Palestinian movement inside Syria, the vast majority of whom oppose the government despite the costs, in offering solidarity to the Syrian uprising or at least the victims of the situation, is something that will be remembered badly in history, although there is still time to change course. (http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/01/23/declaration-of-a-shared-fate/ http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/01/18/while-you-were-neutral-about-yarmouk/).

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4 thoughts on “Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada)

  1. I was unable to find the statements in the EI article you were referencing with these sentences:

    “When it states ‘Israel has no horse in the Syrian conflict’, that is a simplification since it assumes passivity.”

    and

    “I also disagree with the statement that Israel finds the Shia Islamists more threatening than the Sunni ones…”

    In any case, I think the EI article and responding to it is a waste of time since its entire premise is false — Israel is not aiding/supporting Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, it is treating whoever is wounded. Al-Qaeda does not hand out membership cards to its fighters so it’s impossible for Israel to tell if a wounded Syrian fights for them or someone else; furthermore, any of these wounded men could just lie when questioned and say, “no, I’m not a member of AQ. I fight with the Southern Front.” What is Israel going do to — email Joulani and ask him to cross-check his membership list?

    Israel’s policy of treating wounded Syrians without discrimination is the right policy and — like it or not — it is a humanitarian policy. Think of the alternatives to their current policy: they could decide not to treat anyone, which would prove they are Zionist monsters without a shred of humanitarian impulse; they could treat only some Syrians based on their political affiliation, which would mean actively taking sides in the war between the rebels and the regime. So because Israel decided to treat every wounded Syrian regardless of affiliation, Israel’s enemies twist this into “Israel supports al-Qaeda.” Doctors are actually bound by the Declaration of Geneva to provide medical care to patients regardless of their political affiliation. I suppose doctors, the Declaration of Geneva, and the Geneva convention should be condemned alongside Israel for “supporting al-Qaeda” then?

    This whole scandal is manufactured by forces that opposed the Syrian revolution from day 1 but were too cowardly to come out openly for Bashar al-Assad so instead they focus on smearing the opposition. We shouldn’t play their game.

  2. Pingback: Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada) | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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