Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Regional and International War in Syria Avoided
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 16, 2013
A Good War
HERE IS another Jewish joke: A hungry young
Jew sees an announcement outside a local circus: anyone who climbs to the
top of a 50 meter pole and jumps onto a tarpaulin below will win a prize of
a thousand rubles.
Out of desperation he goes in, climbs the pole
and shudders looking down.
“Jump! Jump!” the ringmaster shouts.
“Jumping is out of the question!” the Jew shouts back. “But how do I
get down again?”
That’s how Barack Obama was feeling, a moment
before the Russians provided the means.
THE TROUBLE with war is
that it has two sides.
You prepare a war meticulously. You have a
perfect plan. Future generals will study it in their academies. But once you
make the first move, everything goes awry. Because the other side has a mind
of its own and does not behave the way you expect.
A good example
was provided exactly 40 years ago today (by the Hebrew calendar) with the
Egyptian and Syrian attack on (the Israeli occupation
forces stationed in the Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan Heights - Editor).
According to our planning, they shouldn’t and they couldn’t have done so. No
way. They knew that our forces were superior and their defeat inevitable.
The chief of army intelligence, the man responsible for the overall
evaluation of all intelligence gathered, coined the famous phrase: “low
probability.” So, while hundreds of items indicated that an attack was
imminent, the government of Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan still managed to be
surprised when the Egyptians crossed the Suez Canal and the Syrians advanced
down to the Sea of Galilee.
Some time before, I had warned the
Knesset that the Egyptians were going to start a war. No one took any
notice. I was no prophet. I had just returned from a peace conference with
Arab delegates, and a very highly-placed Egyptian former colonel told me
that Anwar al-Sadat would attack, if Israel
did not accept his secret peace proposals and withdraw from Sinai. “But you
can’t win!” I protested, “He won’t attack in order
to win, but in order to get the frozen situation moving again,” he
SINCE THEN, the phrase “low probability” has had an
ominous ring in Israeli ears. No one ever used it. But during the last two
weeks, it has made a sudden comeback.
Incredible as it sounds, it
was given new life by our army command. Eager to have the Americans attack
Syria, and faced with a run on gas masks in Israel, they announced that
there was a very low probability that Bashar al-Assad would retaliate by
He wouldn’t dare, of course. How could he? His
army is bogged down in fighting with the rebels. It is inferior to our
army anyhow, and after two years of civil war it is even weaker than usual.
So it would be madness on his part to provoke us. Absolutely. Very, very low
Or is it?
It certainly would be, if Assad’s
mind worked like that of an Israeli general. But
Assad is not an Israeli general. He is the Syrian dictator, and his mind
might work quite differently.
What about the following
The Americans attack Syria with missiles and bombs, with
the intention of underlining the Red Line. Just a short, limited, action.
Assad declares Israel responsible and launches his missiles against Tel
Aviv and Dimona.
Israel retaliates with a heavy attack on Syrian
Assad declares that the civil war is over and calls
upon all Syrians, and the entire Arab and Muslim world, to unite behind him
to defend holy Arab land against the common Zionist enemy, the oppressor of
the Palestinian brothers.
The Americans will rush to the defense of
Israel and - - -
Low probability? My foot!
I was as relieved as Obama himself when the
Russians helped him to climb down the pole. Wow!
happen now to the chemical weapons? I don’t really care very much. I thought
from the beginning that the hysteria about them was vastly overblown. Assad
is quite capable of committing all the atrocities he wants without poison
It should be remembered why his
father produced this gas in the first place. He believed that Israel
was developing nuclear weapons. Not being able to aspire to such expensive
and technically advanced devices himself, he
settled for much cheaper chemical and biological weapons as a deterrent.
According to a secret 1982 CIA report, Israel was producing such weapons
So now we are in for a long process of negotiations,
mutual recriminations, inspections, transfers of materials, and so on. Good
for many months, if not years.
In the meantime, no American
intervention. No regional war. Just the usual mutual bloodletting in Syria.
ISRAEL IS furious. Obama is a wimp. A
coward. How dare he listen to American public opinion? Who will ever believe
After this red line was crossed, who will believe
in the much broader line Obama has drawn in the sands of Iran?
Frankly, nobody. But not because of Syria.
There is absolutely no
similarity between the situation in Syria and in Iran. Even if the “limited”
action had led to a bigger operation, as was quite possible, it would still
have been a small war with little effect on American national interests. A
war with Iran is a very different matter.
As I have written many times before, a war with Iran would immediately lead
to the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a world-wide oil crisis, a global
economic catastrophe with unimaginable consequences.
repeat: there will be no American - and no Israeli - attack on Iran. Period.
ACTUALLY, OBAMA comes out of this crisis
His hesitation, which
evoked so much contempt in Israel, does him credit. It is right to hesitate
instead of rushing into war. In war, people get killed. Even a
surgical strike can kill very many people. In laundered military language,
it’s called “collateral damage”.
We should know. Years ago, Israel
started a tiny little operation in Lebanon and unintentionally killed a lot
of people in a UN refugee camp.
Also, Obama did use military
force the way it should be used: not for fighting, if fighting can be
avoided, but for giving weight to diplomatic pressure. The Russians would
not have moved, and Assad would not have bent to their pressure, if there
had not been the credible threat of an American military strike. Even
Obama’s decision to ask for congressional approval was right in this
context. It provided the breathing space which made the Russian initiative
Yes, the Russians are back in the Great Game. They will
also play a role in the coming confrontation with Iran. They are just too
big to ignore. And Vladimir Putin is too shrewd a player to allow himself be
For viewers with a literary bent, the interplay
between Obama and Putin is fascinating – such different characters, such
different motivations. Like the sword-wielding and the trident-wielding
gladiators in the ancient Roman arena.
And the UN is back again,
too. The good old UN, so inefficient, so weak, but so necessary in
situations like these. God bless them.
BUT WHAT about Syria? What
about the ongoing massacre, a.k.a. civil war? Will it go on forever? Can
this crisis be turned around into a solution?
I think that it is
Now that the US and Russia are not at loggerheads, and
Iran is speaking with a much more reasonable voice (Thank you for your Rosh
Hashana greetings) we might perhaps cautiously, very cautiously, think about
I can, for example, imagine a joint American-Russian
initiative along the following lines:
Syria will be reorganized as a
federal state, similar to Bosnia or Switzerland.
It will be
composed of confessional cantons along existing lines: Sunni, Alawi,
Kurdish, Druze etc (i.e. creative destruction -
Instead of the all-powerful president, there will be
a collective or rotating presidency. That will solve the personal problem of
This is a solution everybody can live with. I don’t see any
other that can be adopted without much bloodshed. I don’t think that one can
go back to the status quo ante. The alternative to this solution is endless
bloodshed and the breaking up of the state.
If anything like this
solution is adopted, this crisis may yet bear valuable fruit.
Showing once again that the only good war is a war avoided.