Devin Sper

Which Side Should the United States and Israel Back in Syria?

Conflicting opinions are being expressed in the halls of power about which side the United States and Israel should support in the Syrian Civil War.

The Syrian conflict involves dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of militias allied into three major groups. Russia is backing the Shiite alliance, consisting of the remains of Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies. Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are backing the Sunnis, which include various local Islamist groups. The third major group, ISIS, allies with – or attacks – these and other Islamist militias whenever opportune.

The population of Syria, which is 90% Sunni, is never going back under the heel of Assad and his minority Shia Alawite sect.  At best, Putin may be able to keep the Russian bases in Tartus and Latakia within a small Alawite enclave along Syria’s Northwest Coast. It is equally possible, however, that the Alawite enclave will be overrun and its entire population reap the wrath of the Sunni majority they have so long, and so brutally, oppressed.

Some argue that Israeli and U.S. interests might be at risk should Syria become a failed state. The reality, of course, is that Syria is a failed state.  How else can we describe a country of which government controls only a small area, where the economy, infrastructure and institutions have collapsed, and which is in such a state of chaos that half the population have fled their homes? What is the logic in sending American soldiers to die in Syria while Syria’s own military age men migrate en masse to those European countries offering the best social welfare benefits?

Most of the states of the modern Middle East were artificial constructs of the imperial European powers, which ignored religious and ethnic divisions as they drew lines between their spheres of influence. Those artificial borders could be maintained only by tyrants like Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Assad. Those arguing that it is our responsibility to restore them would involve us in unwinnable, bloody, multi-sided sectarian conflicts. Neither Syria nor Iraq will ever again be a unified state; the same may prove true of Libya and Yemen as well. Egypt is bankrupt and losing control of Sinai to ISIS. The entire Arab world is descending into chaos.

We need to learn our lessons from the Gulf war. Through a tremendous sacrifice of treasure and lives, the United States succeeded in freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny and replacing it with the first Arab democracy. That the people of Iraq have discarded this precious gift we handed them and turned it into chaos is not the fault of President Bush. That the Arab Spring has descended into anarchy is not the fault of President Obama but of the Arab peoples who proved incapable of democracy and have chosen instead sectarian violence.

The Arabs have a history of blaming everyone but themselves for their misery. Their often repeated claim that Israel is at fault for the Arab world’s problems was never true and is today completely absurd. In reality neither President Bush, President Obama, The United States nor Israel is responsible for the sorry state of the Arab world. Responsibility for the ongoing tragedy of the Arabs rests solely with their own violent sectarian society.

From Israel’s point of view, recent developments in Syria and the Middle East could not be more favorable. Once a major threat to Israel, Syria is being depopulated, its cities and infrastructure destroyed. Its once-powerful army has disintegrated. Turkey and Iran are too busy fighting a proxy war in Syria through their Hezbollah and ISIS surrogates to harm Israel. Hezbollah has lost a third of its force in the fighting and is losing the support of its Lebanese Shiite base as a result.  Iran has already admitted defeat by withdrawing the majority of her troops from Syria.

We do not yet know which sectarian militias will end up in control of the area facing the Golan Heights. It is unlikely, however, that they will pose the same strategic threat to Israel as did the once-powerful Syrian Army, with its 5,000 tanks, modern air force and missiles armed with chemical weapons. The disintegration of Libya, Iraq and Syria, and the demise of their tyrannical anti-Israel regimes, is so beneficial for Israel that it is hard not to see in it the hand of God.

Israel has wisely chosen not to intervene in the Syrian civil war despite urgent pleas from the “moderate” Syrian rebels and more recently, the Druze. The United States would do well to emulate Israel’s policy in this regard. Between Putin, Assad, Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand; and ISIS, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda on the other, there is nothing to choose. So which side should the Israel and the United States back in the Syrian Civil War? None of them. Rather we should do as did Menachem Begin did during the Iraq-Iran war and wish both sides good luck.

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About the Author
Devin Sper was born and raised in New York and lived in Israel for 10 years. He holds a degree in Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Devin Sper is the author of The Future of Israel, winner of a 2005 GLYPH award.
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