Israel to the Rescue

This seems like … a really smart thing to do:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the Foreign Ministry to explore ways of increasing the humanitarian aid that Israel provides to Syrian civilians wounded during the civil war in that country, particularly in the battle for Syria’s largest city Aleppo.

Netanyahu announced the move on Tuesday, during a reception for foreign correspondents based in Israel.

The prime minister added that he had instructed the ministry to find way of bringing wounded civilians from Aleppo to Israel for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Israel has actually been doing this for some time now, bringing thousands of wounded civilians out of the fray, giving them medical attention in field hospitals on the border, then returning them to Syria. But given the appalling atrocities in Aleppo, it looks like they’re going to ramp up the program, transporting Syrians across Syrian territory into Israeli territory.

I have to give credit to Netanyahu, who is the only leader who has kept his wits about him during the Syrian crisis. He supports keeping Assad in power, fearing what might happen if Assad falls and some more radical group takes over (hello, ISIS). Israeli forces have been striking ISIS targets in Syria and he’s been working hard to make sure the Israelis and the Russians don’t accidentally end up shooting at each other. He has so far resisted calls to accept refugees, believing (correctly) that this raises the danger of Israeli Jews one day becoming a religious minority in their own country. I really can’t fault him in any steps he’s taken. And this one is just another opportunity to demonstrate that, for all the (sometimes justified) criticism, Israel is still the most modern and humanitarian country in the region. What other country in the Middle East would lend medical aid to the citizens of a nation with whom they are, technically, still at war? And yet, Israel is the only one with a huge Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeted against it.

This is what a coherent foreign policy looks like, incidentally. We haven’t seen one in a long time and I’m dubious that we’ll see it under Trump. But Netanyahu has identified his country’s interests — keeping the devil they know in power, avoiding conflict with Russia and lending humanitarian aide — and executed it. If the big powers had been so coherent in their foreign policy, tens of thousands of people might not have died so needlessly.

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  1. stogy

    This is what a coherent foreign policy looks like, incidentally. We haven’t seen one in a long time

    I agree with that. Netanyahu is doing what he is doing in order to ensure Israel’s interests are maintained. It’s a smart move.

    and I’m dubious that we’ll see it under Trump. 

    I agree with that too. Obama has been completely outwitted by Russia at pretty much every turn. Trump will likely be cosier with Russia, but just as much as a pawn of the Kremlin’s interests. Putin holds all the cards. He doesn’t give them away lightly. The US has deeper engagement with China, so there are more cards on the table, but China won’t handle the kind of Trump rhetoric that we have so far seen. Real deals with China are done in the backrooms. So far, the front room media stuff has done nothing to show China that they can deal with a Trump administration in good faith.

    And yet, Israel is the only one with a huge Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeted against it.

    Yeah, but that’s not because of the hospitalization of enemies, that’s because of the growing settlements in the West Bank, forced displacement of Palestinian populations, attacks on Palestinian olive groves and towns by settlers (with inadequate police response), and the ongoing siege of Gaza. In order to maintain power, Netanyahu has given key aspects of policy to far-right, religious nationalists within his government. And Trump has picked a similar kind of religious nationalist and supporter of Israel’s expansion of the settlements as ambassador to Israel. The new ambassador has likened left-wing Jews and pro-peace supporters to ‘kapos‘, the people who collaborated with the Nazis in WWII. Many of these same left-wing people had family members who perished in the holocaust. So that’s pretty offensive. And  consistent US foreign policy since before Reagan seems to me to be quite likely to be jettisoned.

    Oh, and if you have Netflix, do watch Fauda. I have been to many of the villages and towns where it was shot (in Israel) and set (in the West Bank). It really captures how the conflict affects the lives of both sides. And how much of the population of Israelis and Palestinians are all permanently traumatized. It’s a gripping story and better and much more realistic than Homeland. They are making a second series.

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  2. stogy

    I certainly didn’t see any of this UNSC stuff coming. The arguments against the vote are pretty funny and designed to distract from the fundamental weeping sore that is the settlements.

    They’ve now recalled their ambassador to NZ and are threatening us with sanctions. 

    That may push up the price of hummus precipitously. I’d buy up big now, CM.


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  3. stogy

    Last week, Hal wrote:

    Israeli forces have been striking ISIS targets in Syria and he’s been working hard to make sure the Israelis and the Russians don’t accidentally end up shooting at each other.

    That’s only partially correct. Many of the Israeli airstrikes have been to bomb weapons dumps in Syria that it believes are destined to be passed to Hezbollah as a reward for fighting the rebels in the north and south of Damascus.

    The week before last the Israelis also bombed Hezbollah in southern Lebanon (well, as usual they didn’t actually admit it but it was them). Hezbollah have denied that they have agreed not to attack Israel while fighting in Syria. The Israelis are also worried about a resurgent Syrian military making a movement on the Golan Heights. The Russians have moved anti-missile defense systems into areas around Damascus and Latakia. The possibilities of a clash between some loose coalition of Russia/Iran/Hezbollah and Israel/Saudi Arabia/Turkey are not insignificant. The other question, of course, is how well the Iran/Syrian Government/Russian alliance will hold together given that they have very divergent strategic objectives.

    Meanwhile, the US is supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a  coalition of Kurdish, Turkmen and other minority groups from across the North, well to the East of Raqqa and away from Al Nusra in Idlib (yes, they’ve changed their name, but as they do it every two weeks, I am not going to bother looking up the new one). Two weeks ago, the SDF launched the “Wrath of Euphrates”  operation, intended to isolate and eventually take back Raqqa, and it has achieved substantial gains. The Syrian Democratic forces have apparently asked the US for anti-aircraft weapons (they already have anti-tank weapons), but ISIS don’t have aircraft. Which leads to the question of who exactly they would need air defenses from.

    So far the SDF have largely avoided clashing with Syrian government forces, but I doubt Assad will be happy to let Raqqa fall to an emerging strategic rival backed by a superpower. Assad has apparently a ordered build up of forces to the East of Aleppo with a view to perhaps ensuring that they are present when ISIS collapse, which is now pretty much inevitable.

    Turkey’s operations against ISIS in Northern Syria this week have potentially undermined some of the goals of the SDF in their attack on Raqqa. This is likely to be quite deliberate, as much as Erdogan hates Assad, he doesn’t want a strong Kurdish power emerging in Northern Syria. Turkey has tried to work through local proxy forces, like the ones they pulled out of Aleppo three months ago, but they have struggled against ISIS, and Erdogan was forced instead to send an armored column and special forces to hold Al-Bab against an ISIS counter-offensive.

    I have also been thinking about what Saudi Arabia’s next step in the ME would be after Iran’s battlefield success in Syria. There are now some low-key rumors that Saudi Arabia is encouraging Israel to utilize its airspace for a strike on Iran. This would be one way that Saudi Arabia could get back at Iran for its recent successes in Syria and the strategic quagmire that Yemen has become.

    It’s a risky strategy and could potentially lead to a wider middle-east war – and right at the beginning of a Trump administration. The US is allied with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting ISIS, Kurds fighting both Turkey and ISIS in Northern Syria, the Turkish Government who are fighting the Kurds and Assad through local anti-Assad militias, while a member of NATO, and finally with Sunni Saudi Arabia in its war against Shia Houtis in Yemen.

    So it could be that, if Trump decides to pursue a closer agreement with Russia in Syria, that the US will be both supporting pro-Israel and anti-Israeli interests (i.e. Iran and Hezbollah), supporting pro-Iran (in Iraq) and anti-Iran interests (in Yemen and perhaps Syria), supporting both pro-Kurd (SDF) and anti-Kurd (Turkey) interests, supporting both pro-Turkish and anti-Turkish interests, and pro-Assad and anti-Assad interests.

    It’s a mess and simply bombing ISIS won’t lead to any sort of solution. There are many hawkish Republicans (and plenty of members of the Israeli Knesset) who would love the US to launch airstrikes against Iran. But as I said last week, this is a quagmire. I really think it is better that the US stays out of it.

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