Just when you think matters could not get worse, sure enough things get worse. The Middle East seems to be exploding and imploding from a number of directions and certainly for both the U.S. and Israel there are some very difficult choices. Curiously, in this instance it seems that the policy options for the U.S. are far more complicated than they are for Israel; although surely in an existential way, Israel is in a potentially far more precarious situation than the U.S.
First, it now appears that this is really a case of Hobson’s choice. Would you rather deal with a Syrian Government which apparently has no impunities in attacking its own people by using sarin gas to keep them under control; or would you rather deal with an Egyptian Government which overthrows a democratically elected Government and then proceeds to slaughter hundreds of people who objected to a military take-over of the democratic—albeit religiously fanatical—Islamic regime?
Add to this week’s crises, over the past 48 hours Israel now appears to be facing a revitalized Hezbollah which is under pressure and siege in Syria as they try to intercede or interfere—depending on your perspective—in the civil war continuing unabated now for almost three years. Hezbollah’s use of Katyusha rockets launched apparently indiscriminately against Israel—presumably trying to bait Israel into retaliating and thus creating a unifying diversionary tactic in the midst of the Syrian chaos—looks so far to have not elicited the response from Israel for which it had hoped. At this point, Israel has only responded in kind from the air. As long as no Israeli falls into the hands of Hezbollah or the missiles score a major hit in Israel, there is virtually no likelihood that Israel will bite the bullet and reengage Hezbollah.
For Israel living next door to all this chaos, the choice is rather basic. Give us safe and secure borders and you can carry on your internecine fights without Israel voicing an objection or making a value judgment or political/military move. Israel can do nothing about the tragic loss of life in both countries, but as the leader of the Israeli Government which is unfortunate enough to live next door to these lunatic regimes, the human suffering to once again the world is witnessing and not responding is depressing and eye-opening.
The United States has never appeared so totally powerless as it watches the slaughter. No one should assume that this is the first human tragedy which has remained unanswered, but unlike Rwanda, Sudan, and Cambodia these were not events which a significant effect on the U.S. In the case of the Holocaust where the world stood idly by as 6 million largely European Jews were led to the slaughter by the Nazis, Jews were never more than an incidental concern to most Europeans.
In the current conflict, the U.S. has no real ally to rely on or to whom to turn to facilitate some form of creative response to all the human carnage. This is not the President’s fault, it is the role of the U.S. in today’s world.
When Iranians were killing Iraqis in the 1980’s no one paid much heed to that slaughter. The same would be the case for both Egypt and Syria were it not for the potential use of CBW weapons and the economic consequences given the remaining Western dependency on Middle Eastern oil. The U.N. can do nothing practical except posture and wring its hands. As the Saudi concerns rise so do those in Washington; as Israel’s anxiety over the consequences in Iran escalates, so does the White House get nervous; and as radical Islamic forces continue to grow and manage regimes, the West begins to tremble as it watches history potentially facing another religious war.