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June 4, 2013 4:09 pm

Syria Shows Why Israel Must Remain Strong

avatar by Alan Dershowitz


Syrian Commander Riad al-Asaad, who heads a contingent of Syrian army defectors, in a screenshot from a video from his group's Facebook page. (Free Syrian Army)

Fareed Zakaria explained why neither side in the Syrian conflict is likely to surrender:

“People fight to the end because they know that losers in such wars get killed or ‘ethnically cleansed.'”

In this kind of war the worlds “ethnically cleansed” do not mean displaced or made refugees.  They mean, as Zakaria further explained, massacred:

“Then you have phase 2, which is the massacre of the Alawites, the 14 percent of Syria that has ruled and that will be a bloodbath.”

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Nor will the massacres and bloodbaths be limited to combatants, or even civilian officials, if the past is any indication.  Babies, women, the elderly and everyone else will become targets of the vengeful blood lust.  Already somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 Syrians have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians.  According to United Nations investigators, some have been killed by chemical weapons and thermobaric bombs (that suck the oxygen out of the lungs of everyone in the area.)  There have been at least 17 massacres between mid-January and mid-May of this year alone.  And there is no sign that the bloodshed is abating.  Whether the death toll is closer to 80,000 or 100,000, this figure is more than all the people killed in nearly a century of conflict between Israel and its enemies —a conflict that includes half a dozen wars and thousands of acts of terrorism and reprisals.

Even if one credits the worst allegations against the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel has killed fewer civilians since it came into existence 65 years ago than any country in history facing comparable threats over so long a timeframe.  The world seems unaware of this remarkable fact because the media and international organizations focus far more on Arab and Muslim deaths caused by Israel than on those caused by fellow Arabs and Muslims.

Neither is Syria the first bloody battleground on which Arabs have massacred Arabs and Muslims have massacred Muslims.  Black September in Jordan, the protracted war between Iran and Iraq, the civil war in Lebanon, and the killings in post-Saddam Iraq are only some of the bloodiest battles that resulted in many thousands of civilian deaths.

Imagine then what would happen if Israel were ever to lose a war with its Arab and Muslim enemies (as it almost did when it was attacked on Yom Kippur in 1973 by the Egyptian and Syrian armies.)

The hatred directed against Jews in general and Israel in particular by Israel’s enemies is far more malignant than the animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims or between Muslim and Christian Arabs.  It is taught in schools, preached in mosques and repeated in the media.  There would be no mercy shown.  Israeli armies would not be allowed to surrender and be repatriated, as the Egyptian army was when it was trapped in Sinai at the end of the 1973 war.

Israeli civilians would be targeted as they already have been by Hamas and Hezbollah rockets fired in the direction of large population centers.  The goal of the first war against Israel, as expressed by one of its leaders, was “this will be a war of extermination.”  The desire for revenge has only grown over the course of further warfare and more defeats.

Every Israeli lives under the grim shadow of this reality.  Nor do they count on timely outside intervention to prevent massacres.  Remember, this is a nation built on the memory of the Holocaust, during which the world—including the United States, Great Britain and Canada—shut their gates on those seeking to escape genocide.

That is why Israel will never surrender and will always fight to the end.  That is why Israel needs a nuclear deterrent, unsatisfactory as it may be in a part of the world where suicide in the name of Islam is a virtue to so many of Israel’s enemies.  That is why Israel must always maintain a preventive option, whereby it attacks the enemy military that is poised to attack Israeli civilians.  That is why Israel must always maintain qualitative military superiority over the combined resources of its enemies.  This is also why Israel should make every reasonable effort to make peace with the Palestinians, as it has with the Egyptians and the Jordanians, but without sacrificing its security and its ability to successfully resist attack.

The first duty of every democracy is to protect its civilians against enemy attack.  Thus far, Israel, though vastly outnumbered, has done a good job.  The changes now occurring in the Arab and Muslim world make Israel’s future somewhat less certain, as does Iran’s movement toward nuclear weaponry capable of inflicting a second Holocaust on Israel’s six million Jews and one million Arabs.

Yet so many in the international community seem unsympathetic to Israel’s situation.  Whenever it seeks to defend its civilians, by attacking military targets, though inadvertently killing some civilians on occasion, there is a disproportional outcry against the Jewish state.  Selective boycotts, divestment and other sanctions are directed only at Israel by people ranging from Alice Walker to Steven Hawking.  Israel must not allow these immorally selective threats of delegitimation to deter it from protecting its citizens against the threat of Syrian-type massacres.

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