War of Words Between Israel and Syria
Just in case anyone out there doubted whether Israel was sincere about Mideast peacemaking, take a glance at Avigdor Lieberman’s recent statement towards Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
“Our message must be clear to Assad: In the next war, not only will you lose but you and your family will lose power.”
On its face, bellicose rhetoric like this rubs international diplomats the wrong way. Not only is the Israeli Foreign Minister threatening one of its neighbors by instigating a potential military confrontation, but he is also stopping peace talk momentum right in its tracks. At a time when Israel is receiving especially harsh criticism from the United Nations over its conduct in last year’s Gaza offensive, comments like this do not necessarily help Israel’s cause.
Unfortunately, we cannot simply accept Lieberman’s remark in a nonchalant way and simply cast it aside as if nothing happened. What we have to do- and what Arab Governments are already doing- is viewing Lieberman’s hostility through a much larger context. Citing the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the absence of any real Israeli-Arab peace accord, Arabs are coming to a simple conclusion; Israel is not interested in regional peace.
To a supporter of Israel, this statement sounds hallow and perhaps anti-Semitic. Some lawmakers in the U.S. Congress may go one step further in totally denouncing the conclusion as nothing but anti-Israeli propaganda…which, by the way, is a P.R. phrase that is basically used to totally ignore the numerous grievances of Arab Governments and Palestinian citizens. Still others accept Lieberman’s pointed reference as a legitimate warning to Syria if they ever initiated a conflict against Israeli interests.
On the other hand, rational people with actual credibility- like Mideast Envoy George Mitchell- can see through the smokescreen. Instead of a direct warning to Israel’s enemies, perhaps Lieberman’s comment has a much larger function; creating dissolution in the hopes of further delaying Israeli-Arab reconciliation. I happen to agree with this camp.
Whether you care about the current situation in the Middle East or not, it is hard to disprove the fact that Israel is the unchallenged hegemon in the region (although Iran would probably dispute this claim). Compared to its Arab neighbors, Israel is in possession of the wealthiest and most efficient economy in the greater Middle East. It receives billions upon billions of dollars in exports through its science and weapons industries, all the while racking in billions of dollars in American financial and military assistance on an annual basis.
From a military standpoint, the Israeli armed-forces are unchallenged in terms of sophistication, technology, and conventional fighting tactics. The Israeli Defense Force is one of the most highly respected in the world, capable of subverting the most heavily fortified autocracy and skilled enough in destroying the Arab world’s most advanced defenses. Israel’s version of the CIA- the Mossad- is unquestionably regarded as the most proficient in solving the most complex problems, whether it happens to be the sabotage of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip or the capturing of Iranian weapons depots in the Arabian Sea.
And of course, a discussion of Israeli supremacy would not be complete if we failed to touch upon the huge amount of lobbyists the small country maintains in the United States.
So perhaps Lieberman’s statement is not so much a declaration of war against Syria than an endorsement of the current status-quo. Because let’s face it, the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians and the lethargic relationship with Arab regimes- in other words the status quo- continues to benefit the Jewish state in countless ways.
As long as the regional status-quo remains, Israel will continue to surpass its neighbors and enemies in all dimensions of power. At least that’s their opinion. Rational people in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East recognize that tension only generates more instability. And if we have learned anything from history, it is that instability tends to snowball into full-fledging conflict.
-Daniel R. DePetris