Without a Major Shift in U.S. Policy, There’s Little Hope for Syria in 2018

Jan. 16 2018

Some Western commentators have concocted sanguine scenarios whereby either Iran or Russia will lose its resolve to continue expending blood and treasure propping up Bashar al-Assad’s rule, or will be motivated to reach some sort of compromise agreement regarding the country’s future in the interest of “stability.” Frederic Hof finds such scenarios highly unlikely:

Might ongoing instability in Iran persuade the Ayatollah Khamenei to cut losses in Syria? Probably not. If he decides to toss a bone to Iran’s public, it is not likely to be Syria. The jewel in the crown of Iranian regional policy under current management is Lebanon’s Hizballah, for which Syria is vital. Hizballah’s reliance on Syria for strategic depth and for a logistical link to its Iranian home base will not decrease. . . . [Furthermore], those often described as the Islamic Republic’s “moderates,” “pragmatists,” and even “reformers” have never downplayed the importance of Hizballah to the health and well-being of the operation for which they front.

Other observers profess to see hope in the prospect of Russia nudging Assad toward the exit. [But] there is scant evidence that [Vladimir Putin] has either the power or the will to compel any such thing.

The [Assad] regime itself evaluates power-sharing in a manner identical to any criminal enterprise: as a death warrant. Although Russian airpower has been important in stabilizing the regime militarily, it is Iran that is the key to Assad’s political survival. And if the malfeasance, corruption, and violence of the ruling entourage drive millions more Syrians in the direction of Turkey and Western Europe, so much the better from the Kremlin’s point of view. Indeed, the very prospect of mass migration will fuel Russian attempts to blackmail Europe into offering tribute to its Syrian client. . . .

If hope is to have any realistic role to play in Syria in 2018, the West at long last will have to see the Assad regime as the security threat it has always been. No, this is not a call for violent regime change. The starting point for Western self-defense in Syria is civilian protection. The Obama administration threw away [opportunities to protect civilians] quite gratuitously to appease Iran. A West [committed to] defending itself will, at the very least, get serious about determining ways and means to frustrate, complicate, punish, and block the collective-punishment actions of a Syrian regime for which no crime is so vile as to be avoided.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays