Out of the frying pan. . .

Despite being named the eighth most redneck city in the U.S. as reported by that prestigious journal, ransackedmedia.com, I love my hometown of Sacramento.  It is a pleasant tree-lined city with blue rivers and greenery and good people, even if their self-worth occasionally appears to depend a bit too much on keeping the NBA’s Kings in town.

Despite my fondness for Sacramento, after three months back in the U.S., I was ready to leave the old hometown and head home to Israel. In addition to just needing my quotient of life in our Jewish-majority homeland, I was, frankly, getting a little weirded out.

Sacramento was fine.  It was the rest of the U.S. that had me wondering.  Sandy Hook, Boston, a shopping mall here, a theater there.  A child knifed to death by her 12-year-old brother in the foothills above Sacramento, three women held for years by a Cleveland masochist, a five-year-old killing his two- year-old sister with a Davey Crickett My First Rifle.

My First Rifle was described by the county coroner as a “little rifle for a kid.”  Makes sense.  I suppose there was a little coffin for a little sister killed by a brother with a little rifle for a kid.

80,000 NRA activists cheering on Sarah Palin and a cast of extremely strident people as they resist the idea of checking to see if a guy or girl who buys a gun at a trade show is a whack job.  Somehow the idea of registering a gun is a threat to the Republic and all it stands for.

We register and license cars.  We register and license CPA’s.  In California we register and license hairdressers and cosmetologists.  But somehow checking out buyers and registering and licensing guns is a threat to liberty.

Some of these folks seem to think that their gun will stop the U.S. government, with its tanks, carriers, and missiles, from taking over the country.  They see their guns as the last line of defense against what they fear is a tyrannical government.  What they seem to have forgotten is that they, we the people, are the government, and those soldiers they will be defending against with their rifles and pistols and semi-automatics are their sons and daughters, nephews and nieces.

So, in the face of this insanity, it actually seemed calming to be returning to the security and peacefulness of Jerusalem.

Then we arrived.

Jerusalem is peaceful and quiet. Sure, there were a few skirmishes associated with the Palestinians’ Nakba Day, the day that commemorates what the Palestinians see as the catastrophe of the re-founding of the Jewish nation.  Marking one of the many days before and after 1948 when the Palestinians rejected compromise and peace, opting instead for their ideal of living without a sovereign Jewish people in the world, it seems to continue a tradition of wallowing in grievance and victimhood rather than looking ahead to building a nation that would live in peace with its neighbor.

Despite the Nakba Day with its fairly small, isolated incidents, Jerusalem and Israel felt calm, peaceful, secure, predictable, and sane relative to the U.S. these days.

Then what seemed like a Cold War replay happened.  Russia announces it will deliver an advanced missile system to Syria, a system that would make it nearly impossible for the West to impose a no-fly zone or take other actions against Syria, and that would make it very difficult for Israel to prevent weapon transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

At the same time, a significant show of Russian ships moves into the Mediterranean for the first time in years, and a dozen Russian ships show up at and around the Russian naval base in Syria. Putin is not subtle.  Russia is reasserting its power in the Middle East.   Power abhors a vacuum. U.S. policy created a vacuum.

It seems Putin took President Obama seriously when he was overheard telling the Russian P.M. to tell Putin that he could be more “flexible” after the election. 

It’s likely that the purpose of CIA Director Brennan’s surprise visit to Israel the other day was to tell Israel not to take out the new Russian missiles that are being delivered to Syria for fear things will really escalate and the U.S.-Russian conference on Syria talked about for June will be a fatality.

 The best case situation would have President Obama calling Putin and saying:

“Look it, I’ve really preferred to resolve things without resort to arms, I’ve not always reacted as strongly as some prior presidents, but I really cannot live with this huge new assertion of Russian power into the Mideast, and I cannot live with the Syrians receiving weapons that will make it almost impossible for the U.S. to protect innocent Syrians if it comes to that, and I cannot live with you making it near-impossible for the Israelis to prevent dangerous arms going to Hezbollah.  You’ve made your point. Now I insist you move the ships out and you stop the transfer of the defense system to Syria.  This is a red line for the U.S. and we will take action.  Let’s figure out a way for you to stand down without being embarrassed.”

Would Putin take Obama’s statement seriously?  Perhaps.  He might be so shocked by it that he would think the President means it.

Of course, there is virtually no chance that President Obama will make such a statement to Putin.  Instead, there exists several possible scenarios, none good.

Israel cannot allow Syria to deploy the missile defense system.  It is likely that Israel will wait until Russia has completed transfer and then try to take a bunch out before they are deployed.  Pray that no Russian soldiers or advisers are there when they do so.  If they are there and are harmed, expect big trouble.

If Russian soldiers are harmed, or if Russia takes offense for some other reason, Russia or a proxy could go after Israel.  In that case, the U.S. may be involved a lot more than it would have been by having inserted itself more in Syria a long time ago.

If Syria is allowed to deploy the missile defense system, then it will be in a much better position to transfer chemical weapons and other sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.  If that happens, expect a major action by Israel in Lebanon and major damage to Lebanon and Israel and perhaps other countries.  Expect the possibility of the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorists who hate the U.S.

Whether Israel rejects Brennan’s admonitions and takes out the Russian missiles, or whether it allows the missiles to be positioned and later attacks the weapons transferred to Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon,  expect Israel to be blamed for escalating violence and for torpedoing the conference.

If the conference does occur, Russia has stated that it will insist that Iran participate.  A year ago, the U.S. refused to allow Iran’s participation and a conference was scuttled.  If President Obama is so desperate for a deal that he now allows Iran to participate, U.S. credibility with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and the Sunni world in general will decline even further than it already has.  No one in this region will ever take him seriously.  The next president will be left with the herculean job of rebuilding American credibility.

Expect nothing to come of any conference, other than Assad hanging on, possibly more use of chemical weapons, more refugees, and the destabilization of Jordan and attacks on the Golan Heights, to which Israel will react strongly.

Some of this mess was probably unavoidable.  But much of it is a case of U.S. and Western unwillingness to take early, assertive action putting the region and the U.S. in danger of a much bigger and bloodier conflagration.

Hope and pray that I am wrong.


The most recent reports are that there are now 1.5 million Syrian refugees.  It has been reported that former President Clinton greatly regrets having not taken action to prevent the Rwandan tragedy.  Will Syria be President Obama’s great regret?


About the Author
Alan Edelstein was a lawyer and lobbyist in California for 30 years. He currently lives in Jerusalem and Sacramento, California and consults on governmental affairs, communications, politics, and business development. He blogs at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com. Inquiries regarding speaking engagements: ae@edelsteinstrategies.com