Indecision on Syria undermines Israeli confidence

British rejection of strike to punish Assad’s use of chemical weapons underlines that Israel cannot rely on international community, official says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in London, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Matt Dunham)
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in London, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Matt Dunham)

The ongoing hesitance and indecisiveness with which the West is reacting to the alleged used of nerve gas to kill hundreds of civilians in Syria enforce Israel’s skepticism of the international community in general and, specifically, the idea of security guarantees in any future peace agreement with the Palestinians, Jerusalem officials indicated Friday.

The British Parliament’s decision Thursday against joining a possible military strike on Syria further eroded Jerusalem’s confidence in Western assurances that Israel would not be alone if it were ever attacked, a well-placed Israeli official said.

“We’re drawing our conclusions about how reliable the international community is if Israel ever faces an existential threat. We’re always told that we shouldn’t worry, because the international community would protect us if we were under attack, and that our existence will never be in jeopardy because our friends will provide security guarantees. Well, in Syria we’ve seen security guarantees at work,” said the source bitterly.

On Thursday, the British Parliament voted against a nonbinding motion brought by Prime Minister David Cameron that would have approved possible military intervention in Syria, leaving the US and France as the only states openly considering such a course of action.

The Israeli source, who asked to remain anonymous because Jerusalem does not officially comment on the situation in Syria, said Israel expected Germany to refrain from intervening just two weeks ahead of its elections and with a recent history of avoiding overseas military campaigns. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, indeed, was quoted Friday saying his country had not been asked to participate in any strike, “and neither are we contemplating it.”

Continued the Israeli official: “But we do expect something from the US, the UK, and France. These countries are supposed to be the foundations of international order, supposedly standing for justice. But you can see how it works here.”

The current British government is paying the price of the 2003 Iraq invasion, under then-prime minister and Labour Party head Tony Blair, the official added.

“It has nothing to do with Syria, or with 100,000 Syrians who lost their lives; it has nothing to do with chemical weapons, or anything else outside Britain. David Cameron is paying for Tony Blair.”

Many Britons view the UK’s joining the US-led invasion of Iraq as a “catastrophic expedition based on mendacious arguments,” and hold Blair responsible for a war generally seen as a major failure, the official added. “The current debate is not even about Syria. I never heard from those in the UK who oppose a strike how important it is to battle the use of nonconventional weapons, or to draw clear red lines against those using chemical weapons — values that a country like the UK would usually stand for. But you hear nothing of that, because the whole debate is about getting even with Tony Blair.”

While officially mum on the British decision not to participate in a strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, many Israeli policy makers are neither surprised nor disappointed — because “that’s what they expected,” the official said. It is now commonly accepted in Jerusalem that the international community’s assurances to stand with Israel in a possible future attack from neighboring Arab states or Iran are “based on hypocrisy,” he added.

Even if the US goes ahead and strikes targets in Syria, as it has indicated it would do in the coming days, “the fact that the Syrian army was able to slaughter tens of thousands of its own citizens without any kind of response is a lesson to be learned.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, in principle, ready to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state on large parts of the West Bank, the official noted, but insists that Israel’s security must be guaranteed. Among other things, Netanyahu insists on an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, while others have suggested that international forces, whether US, NATO or UN forces, be deployed there instead. The international community’s paralysis on the Syrian crisis underlined once more that Israel can only rely on itself, the official said.

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