The Bombing of an Aleppo Hospital Should Spur the U.S. to Change its Policy in Syria: Washington Post, Apr. 29, 2016— The devastating bombing of an Aleppo hospital on Wednesday night — which killed at least 50 civilians, including six medical staff and a number of children — was not an accident, and it should not have been a surprise to promoters of the Syrian “cease-fire.”
Syria – a War Waiting to Spill Over: Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2016— Last Wednesday, during the middle of the tranquil Passover vacation, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot headed north.
The Syrian Civil War: An Interim Balance Sheet: Prof. Efraim Inbar, BESA, Apr. 6, 2016— Intensified diplomatic efforts by the international community to put an end to the civil war in Syria are unlikely to reach a political long-term arrangement before the warring parties are exhausted by the conflict.
Canadian Institute Places Israel’s Space Program at the Center of its Universe: Bradley Martin, JNS, May 1, 2016— “Do you remember when Leonard Nimoy said, ‘Live long and prosper?’” Dr. Frederick Krantz asked an audience at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal.
Lebanizing Syria: Gary C. Gambill, The Hill, Apr. 30, 2016
Where ISIL Came From (and Where it’s Going Next): Robert Fulford, National Post, Apr. 22, 2016
The Syrian Quagmire: Andrew J. Tabler, Middle East Forum, Apr. 12, 2016
Obama’s Biggest Mistake Isn’t Libya. It’s Syria.: Josh Rogin, Bloomberg, Apr, 11, 2016
Washington Post, Apr. 29, 2016
The devastating bombing of an Aleppo hospital on Wednesday night — which killed at least 50 civilians, including six medical staff and a number of children — was not an accident, and it should not have been a surprise to promoters of the Syrian “cease-fire.” For weeks the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been proclaiming its intention to recapture the rebel-held eastern side of Aleppo, with help from “our Russian partners,” as the prime minister put it. The bombing of hospitals and food markets, in turn, is a standard component of Mr. Assad’s military campaigns, intended to drive civilians out of rebel-held areas.
By Saturday, the Aleppo offensive was in its ninth day; according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 226 civilians had been killed by bombing and shelling through Friday, including 50 women and children. Yet U.S. and U.N. officials were still clinging to the fiction that the “cessation of hostilities” they said began on Feb. 27, and which the Assad regime never fully observed, was still somehow alive. “I think we would still maintain that it had largely held,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday, as rescuers pulled children from the ruins of the hospital’s pediatric ward.
U.S. policy in Syria has devolved into a sickening routine. Secretary of State John F. Kerry negotiates with Russia on steps to end the violence, while insisting that the United States will turn to a “Plan B” if they fail. Russia and the Syrian regime then make a mockery of the agreements, continuing to bomb civilians and attack Western-backed rebels. Mr. Kerry duly denounces the atrocities, as he did on Thursday, when he pronounced himself “outraged” by the “deliberate strike on a known medical facility.”
Then, forgetting his previous talk of a Plan B, Mr. Kerry returns to the Russians with another appeal for cooperation. That’s what happened after the hospital bombing: The State Department recommitted to the “political process,” according to Mr. Kirby, who went so far as to describe Plan B as “mythical.” On Friday, a new, partial cease-fire was announced, beginning Saturday in the Damascus suburbs and the coastal area of Latakia. Aleppo, where the regime’s offensive is taking place, was excluded.
In fact, there does appear to be a U.S. Plan B, according to the Wall Street Journal, which recently reported that it involved supplying more powerful weapons to the Syrian rebels, possibly including missiles that could shoot down Syrian planes and helicopters. It has been widely reported that Mr. Kerry himself has lobbied for more aid to the rebels as a way of gaining leverage over the Assad regime and Russia. And yet action has been held up, as throughout the Syrian civil war, by President Obama, who, fearing U.S. intervention will make the situation worse, rejects any steps that could make it better.
The latest atrocities should prompt Mr. Obama to reconsider. Measures to strengthen the rebels, and ground the government’s air force, are not only the morally right response to the deliberate bombing of hospitals and food stores. Pragmatically, they offer the only way to force the Assad regime and its allies to negotiate seriously about Syria’s future. The president still has the chance to mitigate his past mistakes and create a path toward peace in Syria. He should seize it.
Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2016
Last Wednesday, during the middle of the tranquil Passover vacation, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot headed north. The military had imposed a temporary closure on the West Bank, and all was quiet on the Gazan and Lebanese fronts. Eisenkot took the opportunity to visit the 91st Division, which secures the Galilee, and toured Mount Dov (Shaba Farms), which looks out over Lebanon and Syria.
Of all the sectors the IDF monitors carefully, it is Syria that is the most unpredictable and explosive, and which carries the biggest potential for a sudden escalation. Additionally, due to Hezbollah’s attempts to traffic weapons from Syria to Lebanon, and its ongoing fight against anti-Assad rebel groups, events in Syria have a direct impact on the Lebanese front.
Just over the Israeli border, in southern Syria, a myriad of heavily armed radical Sunni and Shi’ite factions continue to battle it out, in a zerosum game of kill or be killed. Al-Qaida wages war on other Sunni jihadists in ISIS, and both are engaged in a fight to the death against the Alawite regime in Damascus and its Shi’ite backers – Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Above them, fighter jets belonging to international coalitions carry out air strikes in crowded skies, and Israel, according to foreign reports, periodically targets weapons-smuggling runs seeking to bring strategic arms to Hezbollah’s depots in Lebanon.
The sectarian warfare that has torn Syria to pieces is unlikely to recede any time soon, and international efforts toward a cease-fire – however well intentioned – appear tragically ill-fated. Syria, along with Libya, Yemen and Iraq, represents the breakdown of the 20th-century Middle East order. This chain reaction of implosions looks permanent, bringing along with it a high possibility of affecting additional countries over time.
The Assad regime’s murderous bombing raids on Aleppo, which have killed over 220 people since April 22, testify to the trajectory in which failed states are moving. As civil wars rage, vacuums of power are filled by the rise of radical Sunni organizations, while the displacement of millions of Syrians continues. The developments are accompanied by the breakdown of any semblance of a national identity, in favor of competing sectarian groups.
The concept of the Arab nation-state has never appeared weaker, placing significant strain on the Arab countries in the area that have remained intact. In the new Middle East, it is apparent that sub-state jihadist organizations, not state armies, are the most immediate threat to Israeli security. The old borders have lost meaning. ISIS and al-Qaida in Syria and Sinai, Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza all qualify as modern exemplars of transnational foes.
Israel, like the pragmatic Sunni states that have so far weathered the Arab winter, is preparing for the day that terrorists combating one another in Syria direct their guns and missiles toward new targets.
Prof. Efraim Inbar
BESA, Apr. 6, 2016
Intensified diplomatic efforts by the international community to put an end to the civil war in Syria are unlikely to reach a political long-term arrangement before the warring parties are exhausted by the conflict. It is often weariness that brings armed conflicts to a close, rather than a promising political solution offered by a disinterested mediator or international conference
Significantly, no protagonist seems to have overwhelming power to enforce its preferred solution. The Sunni powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, tried to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the ally of Shiite Iran, but displayed weakness that was exploited by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. Even American aid to the Sunni rebels was ineffective. The much feared Islamic State (IS), born as a result of the disintegration of Iraq and Syria, was not strong enough to tackle the Assad regime successfully. The Russian military intervention was able to strengthen Assad's grip over parts of Syria, but was not enough to restore his rule over the entire country.
This means that Syria will remain divided among several warring factions for some time to come. The fractured country will continue to be an arena in which local chiefs will try to expand their areas of control and in which outsiders will compete for influence. Fluidity and ambiguity will continue to characterize the arena.
This equivocal situation is producing winners and losers, but it is Iran that is emerging with the upper hand. Assad is still in power, which means Tehran retains its clout in Damascus, a former capital of an Arab empire. Damascus is also the linchpin to Beirut, where the Shiite Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, exercises effective power. Moreover, the Syrian crisis has amplified the threat perception of IS in the West, making Iran a potential ally in western attempts to curb radical Sunni Islamists. Such perceptions also help Iran strengthen its control over Iraq. Iran has been successful in preserving the Shiite corridor, a key objective in its quest for hegemony in the Middle East and for projecting force further away.
Russia emerged as a beneficiary of the lingering Syrian crisis even before its military intervention in September 2015. It was successful in providing the diplomatic mechanism that enabled Obama to renege on his ultimatum against Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and has effectively defended the Assad regime at international fora. The Russian intervention on Assad's behalf also signaled that Moscow is a reliable ally, a message that resonates well among the political elites of the Middle East and beyond.
In addition, Russia preserved its strategic assets on the Syrian coast in the eastern Mediterranean after investing for years in the build-up of its Mediterranean flotilla. Russia, a large energy producer with global interests, has also maintained the exploration rights to the potential gas findings along the Syrian coast—a part of the rich Levant Basin.
In contrast, the Syrian turmoil provided plenty of proof that the US, under Obama, is not adept at dealing with Middle East realities. One early example was the Obama administration's initial inclination to try to engage foes, such as Syria (and Iran). A defining moment of American weakness was the retreat from threats to use force against Assad for crossing the chemical weapons red line (August 2012).
The American campaign against IS has provided additional evidence about the retreat of American power in the Middle East. In August 2014, after a confused and long decision-making process, the US concluded that the territorial conquests of IS are evolving into a significant threat to American interests and ordered its air force to raid installations of IS in Syria (and Iraq). Unfortunately, the gap between the goals and the capabilities of the US and its allies bolstered IS's dual message about the weakness of the decadent West and its own invincibility. By the beginning of 2016, the war against IS appeared stalemated. The US failed to induce local actors to cooperate effectively against it, and the limited air campaign has been insufficient.
In contrast, it was Russian air support that secured a victory for Assad against IS (the March 2016 conquest of Palmyra). The Russian intervention underscored American passivity even as it elicited dismissive statements by Obama, who called it a quagmire for Russian forces and absolved himself of the need to take any action. Obama did not specify how he would respond to Russian aircraft targeting US-supported rebel factions in the civil war other than to underline that the US would not directly confront Moscow. The tacit expectation that Syria would turn into a Vietnam or Afghanistan experience for Russia turned out to be unfounded.
Turkey appears to be at a loss after several years of futile support for Syrian rebels. The destabilization of Syria has underscored Turkey's long porous border, which exposes the country to terrorist attacks. At the same time, the influx of a multitude of refugees fleeing the mayhem has exacted an economic price on Ankara. Turkey’s crucial support for IS has been gradually revealed, the full diplomatic cost of which remains to be seen.
While Turkey has shown itself ready to confront Iran by proxies in Syria, underscoring the Sunni-Shiite fault lines and the regional Persian-Turkish rivalry, that readiness may well precipitate Iranian support for Kurdish militias, which constitutes a national security threat. Turkey also miscalculated in November 2015 by shooting down a Russian fighter, an action that triggered a deterioration in Turkey's strategic position by reviving the Ottoman-Russian historical enmity.
In addition, Turkey's Syrian policy has had the unintended consequence of empowering the most virulently anti-Turkish Kurdish elements. These Kurds have achieved a measure of autonomy in several regions in northern Syria, and have earned some Western support thanks to their effectiveness against IS. Still, the limited self-rule the Kurds have established, and the international attention they have attracted to their cause, will not be enough for state-building. For them to achieve full autonomy, they will have to overcome internal discord and their lack of territorial contiguity.
Israel continues to be a spectator as the Syrian tragedy unfolds, with occasional pinpoint interventions when immediate national security interests are at stake. The disappearance of the Syrian military threat to Israel is not, of course, inimical to its interests. But the entrenchment of Iran in Damascus, with substantial Russian help, constitutes a critical national security threat to Israel, because it strengthens the radical axis led by Iran in a Middle East from which the US has largely retreated. The possibility of opening a new front on the Golan Heights is a secondary issue that also needs the attention of the Israeli military.
The Syrian arena provides Israel with diplomatic opportunities to nourish relationships with reluctant actors. Jerusalem must work under the assumption that Syria cannot easily be fixed and that conflict is likely to continue. Israel’s interactions within its strategic environment are inherently limited. The use of force, often inevitable in our neighborhood, must be carefully calibrated in light of domestic and international constraints.
JNS, May 1, 2016
“Do you remember when Leonard Nimoy said, ‘Live long and prosper?’” Dr. Frederick Krantz asked an audience at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal. Listeners chuckled in approval of his “Star Trek” reference, indicating that a large percentage were familiar with the iconic TV series and had fond memories of the late Canadian-Jewish actor. Krantz continued, “Well, that is very true. Israel is not only a power in the Middle East, but will be a power in space.”
The Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR) on April 14 held its 28th anniversary gala, an event titled “Israel in Space.” It was North America’s largest-ever gathering dedicated to Israel’s space exploration achievements, with an estimated 200 attendees, according to Krantz. “My hope is that knowledge of Israel’s space program will show what a benefit the Jewish state is for mankind,” said Krantz, the director of CIJR.
The conference not only showcased Israel’s growing contributions to space exploration, but it was also a night dedicated in memory of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in 2003 on the fatal mission of the Columbia space shuttle.
“I can’t quite see it right now, but there is a relationship between human space flight and peace in the Middle East,” Ramon once told his friend, former Canadian Space Agency president Steve MacLean. “When I get back, I am going to focus on that.”
The keynote address was given by Tal Inbar, head of Space & UAV Studies at The Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, which was founded by the Israel Air Force Association. Inbar recounted how Israel embarked on a national space program in order to monitor Egyptian military movements via satellite. This was done after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, in order to ensure that Egypt was honoring its commitments as outlined in the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Inbar said that this technological edge is even more important now, in order to monitor the activity of Iran, and that Israel needs to maintain its superiority in ballistic missile technology.
“Israel is, to put it politely, geographically challenged by its neighbors,” said Inbar, outlining the barriers to Israeli space ventures. “So, we are the only nation in the world that launches its satellites in the wrong direction! While everyone else launches their rockets eastwards, with the Earth’s rotation, we have to launch west in order to avoid our rockets being shot down. So, we lose about one-third of the lifting capability of out launched vehicles.”
“Israel is home to the only launch facility that is next to an active nuclear research center, two major cities, and a port with large deposits of oil. It is also within range of rockets from Gaza,” Inbar added in reference to Palmachim, an Israeli military base and spaceport located near the Mediterranean.
Despite these geopolitical obstacles, Israel’s contributions to space exploration technology have been noted throughout the world. It was announced in February 2016 that the Israel Space Agency would become an official member of the United Nations Committee on Space Affairs. In October 2015, the U.N. accepted Israel into its prestigious Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, an accord that is expected to allow Israeli experts to influence significant global projects, such as using satellites in real-time to aid rescue teams during disasters.
Israel currently has 15 civilian satellites orbiting the Earth, two-thirds of which are communication devices, with the remainder being communication platforms. Israel is reportedly the smallest country in the world to launch its own satellites. It is also one of only 11 nations with the ability to independently launch unmanned missions into space.
Israeli advancements in space technology have also played a critical role in the ongoing exploration of Mars. Developed by Siemens in Israel, the Product Lifestyle Management software that enabled NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories to accurately model the performance of the Curiosity rover has been integral in determining whether life ever arose on Mars, as well as preparing the “red planet” for future human exploration.
Bradley Martin is a CIJR Student Intern. CIJR’s 28th Annual Gala also took place in Toronto on
April 12, 2016 and featured keynote speaker Tal Inbar. Toronto CIJR office co-chair David Sherman,
& his wife Simone, were honoured with the 2016 “Lion of Judah” award—Ed.
Lebanizing Syria: Gary C. Gambill, The Hill, Apr. 30, 2016—After months of what the New York Times called "obsession" on the part of America's top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry has brokered an understanding that is dramatically reducing violence on most fronts in the Syrian civil war, while declaring open season on ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.
Where ISIL Came From (and Where it’s Going Next): Robert Fulford, National Post, Apr. 22, 2016—In June, 2014, Barack Obama dismissed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as the terrorist equivalent of a junior varsity basketball team. He remarked that “If a j.v. team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” In other words, nothing there for Americans to worry about.
The Syrian Quagmire: Andrew J. Tabler, Middle East Forum, Apr. 12, 2016—It is not yet clear whether and to what extent the partial drawdown of Russian forces from Syria will affect the course of the Syrian civil war.
Obama’s Biggest Mistake Isn’t Libya. It’s Syria.: Josh Rogin, Bloomberg, Apr, 11, 2016 —President Barack Obama said Sunday that his biggest mistake as president was failing to plan for the day after the fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. But as bad as Libya looks today, Syria is faring far worse, in part because of the Obama administration’s failings — which the president has not yet acknowledged.