Has the world forgotten about Syria?

On Monday, Israel’s Channel 10 news aired a newscast prepared by Arab affairs correspondent Zvi Yehezkeli dealing with the ongoing civil war in Syria. The piece, which was part of a larger segment of newscasts summarizing 2013, was a familiar mélange of violent scenes, clichés and worn out slogans. Yet it delivered a simple message- the world has forsaken the Syrian people. According to Zvi, following Bashar Assad’s agreement to surrender his chemical weapons stockpile, the nations of the world turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime and to the plight of the Syrian people.

While the newscasts’ message was effective, it was mistaken. The world has not forgotten about the Syrian people. On the contrary, some of the most powerful nations in the world have placed Syria at the top of their foreign policy agenda. One such nation is the United Kingdom.

If one wishes to understand foreign policy in the 21st century he must turn his attention to digital channels. Nowadays, most Foreign Offices view social networks and online social interaction as an integral part of diplomacy. Digital diplomacy, which refers to the use of social platforms in order to engage with foreign publics and governments, has become statecrafts’ the new frontier. Over the past two years, digital diplomacy units have been established in foreign offices spanning the globe and the United Kingdom is no exception. In fact, the UK is one of the most “social” nations in the world with its Foreign Office tweeting or posting on Facebook every few hours.

In the past month, the UK’s Foreign Office twitter account has been devoted mainly to the Syrian crisis. Foreign Minister William Hague and Prime Minister David Cameron have repeatedly tweeted that they view the ousting of Bashar Assad as the only possible solution to the Syrian civil war. To this end, the members of the “London 11” convened in the London three weeks ago to discuss which actions can be taken to hasten a political transition in Syria.

Foreign Office tweets also show that British officials now routinely visit Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon in an attempt to assess the scope of the Syrian refugee crisis which currently includes over one and a half million Syrians. Like the Stark family, the Foreign Office is well aware that “winter is coming” and with it a looming humanitarian crisis amongst the refugees.

The UK’s commitment to resolving the Syrian crisis goes far beyond tweets and harsh statements. Over the past few months it has donated some 500 million Pounds (over two billion Shekels) in aid to Syrian refuges in addition to blankets and heating equipment.  The Foreign Office has also launched a gift matching program, featured on its Facebook profile, with a commitment by the British government to match the funds raised by UK citizens. This is the reason why on Dec 18th British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that his country can be proud of the aid it has offered Syrians and called on other nations to “step up to the plate”.

I agree with Zvi that we are unlikely to see an international coalition willing to forcefully oust Bashar Assad. I also agree that the reluctance of world powers to intervene and end the Syrian civil war is morally reprehensible as over the past year Assad has proven that he is an efficient mass murder even without his much talked about chemical weapons. Yet I disagree with Zvi that the world has forsaken the Syrian people. What is needed now at the very least is a commitment of funds and resources by many nations, not just one, in order to avoid a deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Syrian refugee camps.

The UK should not stand alone in this struggle.  We should all stand with it.

About the Author
Ilan Manor is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to the Jerusalem Post, +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and On Second Thought magazine. His Hebrew-language blog has been featured several times in the Israeli press.