It has been seven years since the start of the Syrian war — the harshest conflict in the war-ravaged Middle East. Ceasefires have repeatedly been agreed to — and then promptly ignored.
The violence all started innocently enough — when a young man, buoyed by hopes of the “Arab Spring” in 2010, scribbled a message on a school wall against Syrian dictator Assad. From there, the rapid descent into hell began, which spread throughout Syria — with a current estimate of 500,000 Syrians dead and millions displaced, also representing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
But Ghouta, the heart of the anti-Assad rebellion, has been hit the hardest. It was the site of the infamous chemical attack that killed more than 1,000 civilians in August 2013. That attack left many more with horrific injuries, including the loss of limbs.
It was in this city where the resolve of former President Barack Obama and the United States was tested — because Assad used those chemical weapons approximately one year and one day after Obama had said that if he saw chemical weapons being moved around or used, he would have to draw a “red line.”
But when the time came, America failed its test miserably.
When America does not display strength, evil men and nations come crawling out of the woodwork — like the Iranian mullahs, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
After consistent years of brutal fighting, the war in Syria is not over, although the civil war might be extinguishing itself, with Assad left in power thanks to the help of Russia. However, this is not a beginning of the end. But it might be the end of the beginning
We might well be on the precipice of another, greater war — where superpowers are involved with competing interests that might intersect. Turkey, which would like to believe it is a superpower, has unleashed a particular round of fury against the Kurdish enclave in northwestern city of Afrin, Syria.
Muslim Brotherhood supporter Erdogan, who despises the Kurds, has used the chaos in Syria as an excuse to pummel this isolated region. The Kurdish enclave valiantly fought for its independent survival for at least a month, but these Kurds were badly pounded, and had been isolated and cut off from any aid from the United States. In desperation, they sought the help of Damascus in order to survive.
This is Syria today. It is one mass killing field atop of another, and the air space over the country is being used by superpowers and those that aspire to be superpowers to play out their hegemonic dreams (or in Putin’s case, to flex its muscles).
At the same time, Lebanon has become overrun with Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and is now a huge base for the manufacturing of missiles.
On February 10, the Iranian-Syrian-Russian axis sent a drone missile into Israeli airspace in order to test Israel’s resolve. And, thank God, Israel — with its strong military — passed the test masterfully. The response was immediate. It was direct. And it was harsh.
That is the only way to survive in the Middle East.
And that is why it is so important that Israel always maintain its strategic depth and control of the high ground on the Golan Heights.
In 1994, during the heady days of the Oslo Accords, when everyone had stars in their eyes about making peace with terrorists, dictators and despots, I was part of a small band of people who worked very hard to inform the US Congress of a plan on the table to place American troops on the Golan Heights. This was conceived as a way to sweeten the bitter pill for American Jewry and the Israeli public for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This withdrawal was to be in exchange for a “peace treaty” signed with then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
My friends and I opposed this plan, and were subject to some stinging criticisms. We knew that Assad was not to be trusted, but we were dubbed “enemies of peace.”
Most of those who condemned us 24 years ago would not want to remember the position they took then.
So the next time that Israel is coaxed to simply trade “land for peace” with current or potential terrorists, despots and dictators, I ask you to please remember the horrors of Ghouta and Afrin.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of EMET, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington, DC.