Canadian Institute for Jewish Research
L'institut Canadien de Recherches sur le Judaisme
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The Great Distraction of Punitive Airstrikes: Jonathan Spyer, The New Republic, Apr. 15, 2018— Despite escalating worries about Russia in past weeks, the skies did not fall as a result of the American-led punitive raid on Syria’s chemical weapons storage and research facilities Saturday morning.

Assad is More Dangerous than ISIS: Yoni Ben Menachem, JCPA, Apr. 16, 2018 — As time goes by, the failure of President Obama to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more and more apparent.

US-Russia Military Encounter in Syria: Implications for Israel: Louis Rene Beres, Israel Defense, Apr. 15, 2018— For the most part, Israel has always been able to identify and manage its own particular involvements with Syria…

Syria Shows the Dangers of ‘America First’ Policy: Sarah N. Stern, JNS, Apr. 13, 2018— The government of Syrian President Bashir Assad launched a chemical attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria — killing at least 42 people and injuring some 500 more.


On Topic Links

Israel Fears Trump May See Job as Done in Syria, Leave Israel Alone to Face Iran: Times of Israel, Apr. 14, 2018

High Stakes in Syria: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 12, 2018

The Case for Bombing Assad: Michael Totten, World Affairs Journal, Apr. 12, 2018

America’s Three Bad Options in Syria: Max Fisher, New York Times, Apr. 10, 2018



Jonathan Spyer

The New Republic, Apr. 15, 2018


Despite escalating worries about Russia in past weeks, the skies did not fall as a result of the American-led punitive raid on Syria’s chemical weapons storage and research facilities Saturday morning. Great care was taken to avoid hitting the many sites within “Assad-controlled” Syria which are in fact administered by powers other than the Syrian dictator—namely, Russia and Iran. “A perfectly executed strike,” the president declared on Twitter. “Mission accomplished.” U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley struck a similar tone of satisfaction. ‘“If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again,” she told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, “the United States is locked and loaded.”

A great victory, then—depending on whom you ask. Damage was done to Assad, a tyrant responsible for the deaths of an increasingly uncountable number of his own civilians. The careful planning seems to have prevented anything but angry rhetoric from Russia. And the participation of France and the United Kingdom lent at least some air of multilateralism. But while the tactical prowess of western armed forces over Syrian air defenses was confirmed, it is not quite clear what else has been achieved. Assad will remain in power. The humanitarian crisis persists. And arguably, the focus on checking off proportionate punishment for chemical substances represents a diversion from the issues really at stake in Syria.

U.S. and western officials were keen to note that the operation of recent days did not represent an intervention in the Syrian civil war. A “one-time shot,” Defense Secretary James Mattis called it. It may therefore be assumed that the western stance toward that war remains unchanged. Earlier this month, President Trump declared his intent to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, “ideally” within six months. These forces are currently guaranteeing a western-aligned, Kurdish-dominated entity that controls 2 percent of Syria, including the greater part of its gas and oil assets.

If the withdrawal of these forces means that U.S. air power will also no longer be employed to keep Assad, the Iranians and the Russians out of this area, then the region will certainly be reconquered by the regime and its allies. Support for the non-jihadi rebels in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, meanwhile, was ended in December, and renewed regime bombardment, despite last year’s “de-escalation zone” truce, began in March. The removal of chlorine from the equation is unlikely to change rebels’ fate. If U.S. withdrawal proceeds as planned, the Syrian war seems likely to end in strategic triumph for Assad, Iran, and Russia. Western allies, including Israel, are deeply concerned at what is likely to follow from a geopolitical perspective.

Iran is currently engaged in the construction of an extensive infrastructure in Syria. This includes the establishment of permanent military bases. In addition, the Revolutionary Guards are supporting proxy militia forces on Syrian soil in considerable numbers, and recruiting local “Syrian Hizballah” type forces such as Quwat al-Ridha from the Homs area, al-Ghalibun from the Sayida Zeinab area in Damascus Governorate, and the 313 Brigade from the Deraa area.

Tehran seems to intend to extend this structure to the area immediately east of Quneitra Crossing and the Golan Heights, in order that it may serve as a tool of pressure and potential aggression against Israel. Currently, the enclave controlled by the U.S. and its allies—including the non-Islamist rebel-controlled enclave in Deraa, which birthed the Syrian revolt—blocks Iran’s ability to develop the contiguous land corridor it seeks to extend all the way from the Iraq-Iran border.  U.S. withdrawal of support for these areas, and their subsequent collapse, would mean that Israel would be facing this advance alone—a scenario which has already sparked concern in Israeli media.

Israeli officials have made clear that the entrenchment of this Iranian project and its extension to the border are utterly unacceptable to Jerusalem. The large-scale raid last week on the T4 base outside Palmyra, in which seven Iranian personnel including a colonel were killed, was an indication of the direction of Israeli policy. As Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated following this operation, “Accepting Iranian entrenchment in Syria would be to accept Iranians putting a chokehold on us. We cannot allow that.”

In other words, although the U.S. and Russia appear to have avoided conflict over Syria, the current strategy seems almost guaranteed to leave Iran and Israel on a collision course. When the current western barriers to Iranian advancement are removed, Iran and its allies will finish off the rebel and Kurd forces that remain. Thus consolidated, Iran will then be the dominant actor in a giant land area stretching from the Iraq-Iran border to the Mediterranean Sea and the Syrian border with Israel. Israel will at this point seek Russian assurances to curb a further Iranian advance—which it is unlikely to get. What happens after that is the stuff of strategists’ nightmares. When seen from this point of view, the destruction of a number of Assad’s chemical weapons research facilities might be seen as at best a diversion from the main point. Not only Syria’s humanitarian nightmare, but also the practical geopolitical problems, remain unchanged.




Yoni Ben Menachem

JCPA, Apr. 16, 2018


As time goes by, the failure of President Obama to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more and more apparent. In August 2013, Obama had the option for a military strike against the Syrian regime following its use of gas against civilians in Ghouta, but he preferred to broker an agreement for removing chemical weapons from Syria. Later, it emerged that Bashar Assad misled the United States and managed to conceal large quantities of chemical weapons, which he is currently using against civilians. If President Obama had acted to topple Bashar Assad’s regime, he would have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and prevented millions of Syrian civilians from becoming refugees.

President Trump is much different from Obama. In the last year, he attacked Syria twice after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. At a speech that he gave in Ohio on March 29, 2018, President Trump surprised many when he announced that the United States would soon withdraw from Syria. He ordered the commanders of the U.S. armed forces to end the military campaign in Syria and to facilitate their exit from Syria in a few months.

According to American sources, President Trump has ratcheted down the plan to remain in Syria for the long term, provide aid to restore stability to Syria, and destroy ISIS. President Trump agreed to leave U.S. military forces in Syria for another few months to prevent any ISIS resurgence. However, recent developments show that Syrian President Assad is a thousand times more dangerous than ISIS.

American policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime needs to look beyond the chemical weapons and fight against ISIS.  Assad interprets this limited focus as weakness, and he allows himself to do whatever he wants with Russian-Iranian backing. The American-French-British attack avoided strikes against the symbols of the Syrian regime. It also didn’t strike at the Syrian army. In the best case scenario, it neutralized the chemical weapons factories for a long time. President Trump has instructed the State Department to freeze economic aid to Syria worth $200 million while the United States reconsiders its role and involvement in the conflict in Syria.

If Bashar Assad’s regime succeeds in restoring its military control over the whole of Syria, it is reasonable to assume that the western countries, led by the United States, will regret it. Syria has turned into a stronghold of the “Evil Axis,” a covenant of interests between Bashar Assad, Iran, and Russia. According to this pact, Assad receives protection from both of these countries, and in exchange he allows them to have a military presence inside Syria. This is his “insurance policy.” Several times this week, President Trump praised the way the United States bested ISIS in Syria. However, if the United States withdraws unilaterally from all involvement in Syria, it will serve the interests of Bashar Assad, known as “the Butcher of Damascus.”

Israel is not prepared to accept Iran’s entrenching itself in Syria, the purpose of which is to open an additional front against Israel in the Golan Heights. Israel is determined to prevent this, and there appears to be an inevitable path toward escalation. President Trump understands the Iranian peril all too well. However, he also needs to take into account the danger that Assad poses to the stability and security of the region.

ISIS has been defeated in Syria and Iraq. The “Islamic Caliphate” that it established has collapsed, but Syria under Assad’s leadership has become strengthened by the civil war that has been raging for the past seven years. President Trump must not repeat the mistakes of President Obama. He did refer to President Assad as an “animal,” but the United States needs to adopt a firm line regarding anything related to the current Syrian regime.

Israel is a faithful ally of the United States. A complete U.S. withdrawal from Syria leaves Israel isolated when dealing with the Iranian-Syrian danger. It can only be hoped that recent events in Syria will lead to American reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime. Syria under Assad’s leadership has become a regional threat because it has opened its doors to Iran so that it can establish a military presence within its territory.

There is concern by some in Israel’s leadership that the U.S. administration may consider the attack on the chemical weapon installations in Syria as the farewell act of U.S. military involvement in Syria. This would be bad for Israel, which from now on will need to deal on its own with the Iranian threats emanating from Syrian territory.




Louis Rene Beres                             

Israel Defense, Apr. 15, 2018


For the most part, Israel has always been able to identify and manage its own particular involvements with Syria, regarding both the incessantly criminal regime of Bashar al-Assad and the sub-national groups in-league with the dictator or opposed to him. Nonetheless, the increasingly belligerent rhetoric of the American president toward both Assad and his principal mentor in Moscow now suggest some potentially imminent and far-reaching conflict transformations in the entire region. In turn, such changes could quickly produce very grave hazards to Israel, risks that lie ominously beyond its own national scope of operational competence or political influence. Ultimately, of course, the most serious of any such transformations would concern a nuclear war between the superpowers.

In those notably unprecedented circumstances, virtually all traditional geopolitical models that were once au courant in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would summarily become moot. For the United States, the corresponding “trick” will be to meet both military and legal objectives without simultaneously generating a nuclear war. Significantly, at least on the military side, there are no available experts on the subject of nuclear war – not in Washington, not in Moscow, not in Jerusalem. This is the case, moreover, whether we are presently concerned with deliberate or inadvertent nuclear war.

Arguably, in this particular geo-strategic context, the latter would appear more portentous than the former, at least from the standpoint of plausibility or presumptive likelihood. For US President Donald Trump, it will be necessary above all to avoid any direct military confrontations with Russian forces or identifiable weapon system assets. In this connection, it is entirely possible that Russian President Vladimir Putin would deploy Russian soldiers to some of the areas most likely to be targeted by the United States. These Russian deployments could be undertaken for purely tactical reasons, or instead for less conspicuous purposes of enhancing credible deterrence.

In essence, the latter purposes would be to erect a suitable “trip wire.” Accordingly, the purpose of the deployed Russian troops would not be to actually fight against the Americans, but rather to “trip” certain expectedly desirable escalations with the United States. Naturally, drawing an exact line between desirable and undesirable escalations here would prove very difficult in practice, and could have a broad variety of possible conflict outcomes.

To be sure, these murky and historically unique circumstances could slowly or suddenly escalate out of control, triggering either an inadvertent or very deliberate nuclear war. In either case, most other states in the Middle East could be more-or-less directly impacted, Israel, of course, in particular. Significantly, because true probabilities can only be calculated according to the discernible frequency of pertinent past events, there would be no reliable way to figure out how it would end.

In the obviously worst-case scenario, the ending would involve multiple firings of nuclear missiles and/or bombs – issuing from both superpower combatants. What about the Russian soldiers? Their only predictable function in such an inherently ambiguous scenario would be to die. Plainly, they could serve no other ordinary military function.

Furthermore, even if Vladimir Putin would not purposefully introduce a trip wire force into the conflict, his already deployed S-400 advanced surface-to-air missile systems could readily elicit identically perilous consequences. In essence, because the Americans would necessarily strike these missile targets first, Russian military personnel could plausibly be among the first casualties of any impending superpower military engagement in Syria.

Then what? For Israel, the answers would depend, in large measure, upon the actual physical and human costs being inflicted upon the Jewish State, whether intentional or as “collateral” harms. Quo Vadis? Where might President Trump and the United States go now? It’s a question for Israelis, as well as for Americans.

Insofar as Mr. Trump has already announced an allegedly irrevocable decision to employ armed force against Syria, the president’s operational choices are probably foreseeable in Moscow. In response, Mr. Putin could take various prompt military steps to counter the growing American preparations or to best avoid any forms of superpower military engagement altogether. For Israel, that decision taken in Moscow could produce manifestly different but still decisively consequential outcomes…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]    





Sarah N. Stern

JNS, Apr. 13, 2018


The government of Syrian President Bashir Assad launched a chemical attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma, Syria — killing at least 42 people and injuring some 500 more. Once again, our computer screens were replete with helpless children, some lifeless and limp, some foaming at the mouth and flinching, some with oxygen masks strapped across their tiny faces. This attack was the final blow for the last remaining rebels in this Damascus suburb.

Donald Trump, apparently moved by the images, promised: “We cannot allow atrocities like that. Cannot allow it. If it’s Russia. If it’s Syria. If it’s Iran. If it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answer quite soon.” He warned: “Nothing’s off the table.” This came within a week of President Trump’s pronouncement that “we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

This brings us to the first lesson: Whether or not America wants to enter into a period of isolationism, when we withdraw from the picture the world becomes an infinitely more dangerous place. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when America retreats, all of the moral cockroaches — like Tehran’s mullahs, Syria’s Assad, Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdoğan — immediately swoop in to fill the void. Akin to the period between the two world wars, the American people might say they have no appetite for further military engagement, yet there is something in America’s moral fabric that simply cannot allow atrocities like these to go unanswered. As Winston Churchill once said: “America always does the right thing. After it has exhausted all other possibilities.”

Over the last seven years of the protracted Syrian civil war, the country has been on a slow and steady path towards total implosion. Initially, an alphabet soup of terrorist groups have used this empty playing field, including, but not limited to, Jabat Al Nusra, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Ahrar al Sham, the IRGC, the Al Quds Force and Hezbollah — many of them proxies for bigger regional players. Now the big boys are entering the scene, and Syria promises to be the theater in which America and the West might quite soon form a coalition against the regional forces of oppression and their Russian enablers. The next lesson, therefore, is: If we do not engage ourselves in smaller wars, America might well find itself dragged into a much larger war.

The second major event was the attack on the T-4 air base early Monday morning. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied their involvement, as is characteristic, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his red lines very clear. On February 10, when Israel shot down an Iranian drone launched from the identical Syrian air base and flown over Israeli territory, Netanyahu said: “Our policy is very clear. Israel will defend itself against any attack and any attempt to harm our sovereignty.” He then added that, “Iran seeks to use Syrian territory with the expressed goal of destroying Israel.”

Since the singing of the nuclear-trade deal, Iran has used its vastly enriched coffers to empower, embolden, and enable its terrorist proxies within the widening Shiite crescet — and has used Syria as part of its ever-widening land bridge stretching from Tehran to Beirut. This has been enabled by Russia military support. Russia under Putin wants to re-emerge as a world power and has just asked Iran permission to use its air bases in Iran as refueling stations. Russia also just vetoed the UN Security Council resolution to investigate the Syrian chemical attack in Douma.

Which brings us to the final lesson of these recent Syrian events: In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, famously wrote a book titled, The End of History and the Last Man. In it, he argued that with the end of the Cold War, we were passing through a period of post-war history, and that we had reached the height of the ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the apex and final form of government.

Democracy might be the best form of government devised, but Russia, though the use of its proxies, has shown that it might want to regress to a period of Cold War alliances. And unfortunately, because sometimes the only way to eradicate pure evil — such as was on display this weekend in Douma — is through the use of military force, we are quite far from a post-war epoch.


On Topic Links

Israel Fears Trump May See Job as Done in Syria, Leave Israel Alone to Face Iran: Times of Israel, Apr. 14, 2018—While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly backed the US-led airstrikes on Syria in the wake of its use of chemical weapons, Israeli security chiefs made clear on Saturday night that Israel fears the Trump Administration will now consider that its work in Syria is done, and leave Israel alone to face the dangers posed by Iran’s growing military presence in Syria.

High Stakes in Syria: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 12, 2018—Donald Trump treasures nothing more than unconstrained access to the world through Twitter. So you know the President is having a bad week when his tweets come back to haunt even him, as they have with Syria. The Syrian tweets were especially damaging—to him personally and his role as Commander in Chief of the U.S. military.

The Case for Bombing Assad: Michael Totten, World Affairs Journal, Apr. 12, 2018—Bombing Syria over President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Douma last week—as President Donald Trump promises to do—is almost an absurdity. Nearly half a million people on all sides have been killed in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, barely 100 of them by the regime’s most recent sarin attack.

America’s Three Bad Options in Syria: Max Fisher, New York Times, Apr. 10, 2018—Chemical weapons are again suspected to have been used in Syria, apparently by government forces, circumstantial evidence suggests. Again, many Americans, particularly in Washington, have responded with calls to do something. And, again, punitive airstrikes against the Syrian government are the most discussed option.