Why the U.S. Still Can’t Ignore the Crisis in Syria

March 13 2019

Both Presidents Obama and Trump have warmed to the idea of American disengagement from the Middle East, an option that seems to have no small degree of public support. In an interview with Robert Nicholson, Frederic Hof argues that the Syrian civil war demonstrates precisely why such a policy is unfeasible:

If Syria followed Las Vegas rules—what happens there stays there—withdrawal from the Middle East might be a realistic [proposition]. But nothing that’s happened there has stayed inside the country. Friends and allies of the U.S. have been flooded with refugees. A 2015 mass migratory crisis—60 percent Syrian—washed over Western Europe and changed politics there in ways Russian President Vladimir Putin applauded.

Mass civilian homicide and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime may have set new standards for ensuring the survival of brutal regimes around the world. And the U.S. intelligence community believes that Islamic State and al-Qaeda—both beneficiaries of Bashar al-Assad’s misrule—present security threats to the American homeland, as do Assad’s supporters Iran and Hizballah.

To Nicholson’s question about the often heard but highly debatable claim that Assad is the great protector of Syrian Christians, Hof responds:

Many Syrian Christians—including some of my closest Syrian friends—continue to support the Assad regime. Do they support mass murder? No. Do they support detention facilities featuring Nazi-like methods? No. Do they support starvation and medical deprivation sieges? No. Do they support chronic incompetence and pervasive corruption? No. But here is the key question: have they seen an attractive alternative to Assad? No.

Some regional powers took advantage of an uprising that was initially entirely non-sectarian and pro-Syria to support Islamists; these regional powers wanted stooges and employees. They ended up helping Assad enormously by all but erasing respectable alternatives to his rule, by helping Assad militarize the conflict, and by helping the dregs of Syrian society become the key actors on both sides. Assad has been the big beneficiary. His behavior has contradicted every element of the Christian Gospel. But it is understandable that many Syrian Christians, fearing jihadist alternatives, have continued to back the devil they know.

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More about: Bashar al-Assad, Middle East Christianity, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

Despite What the UN Says, the Violence at the Gaza Border Is Military, Not Civilian, in Nature

March 22 2019

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued its final report on last spring’s disturbances at the Gaza border. Geoffrey Corn and Peter Margulies explain why the report is fatally flawed:

The commission framed the events [in Gaza] as a series of demonstrations that were “civilian in nature.” Israel and its Supreme Court, [which has investigated some of the killings that occurred], framed the same events quite differently: as a new evolution in Israel’s ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas. Consistency and common sense suggest that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s framing is a more rational explanation of what occurred at the Israel-Gaza border in spring 2018.

Kites, [for instance], played a telltale role [in the violence]. When most people think of kites, they think of a child’s plaything or a hobbyist’s harmless passion. In the Gaza confrontation, kites [became] a new and effective, albeit low-tech, tactic for attacking Israel. As the report conceded, senior Gaza leaders, including from Hamas, “encouraged” the unleashing of waves of incendiary kites that during and since the spring 2018 confrontations have burned thousands of acres of arable land within Israel. The resulting destruction included fires that damaged the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which conveys goods and gasoline from Israel to Gaza. . . .

Moreover, the incendiary-kite offensive was an effective diversion from the efforts encouraged and coordinated by Hamas last spring to pierce the border with Israel and attack both IDF personnel and the civilian residents of the beleaguered Israeli towns a short distance from the border fence. . . .

The commission also failed to acknowledge that Hamas sought to use civilians as an operational cover to move members of its armed wing into position along the fence. For IDF commanders, this increased the importance of preventing a breach [in the fence]. Large crowds directly along the fence would simplify breakthrough attempts by intermingled Hamas and other belligerent operatives. The crowds themselves also could attempt to pour through any breach. Unfortunately, the commission seems to have completely omitted any credible assessment of the potential casualties on all sides that would have resulted from IDF action to seal a breach once it was achieved. . . .

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Laws of war, UNHRC, United Nations