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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/26/14

WPost Seeks US-Patrolled "Safe Zone" in Syria

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One Post idea is for U.S. forces "to help patrol a safe zone for them [the rebels] to evade Mr. Assad's depredations."

Besides being a violation of international law, this scheme has the-camel's-nose-under-the-tent feel of the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in 2011. That "R2P" operation quickly mission-creeped into a "regime change" that deposed Muammar Gaddafi and splintered Libya into a failed state now dominated by rival militias, including Islamic extremists like the ones who killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in 2012.

In Syria, the rebels, including the Islamic jihadists arriving from around the Middle East, have received substantial military and financial support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, as well as light arms from the CIA. But that has not been enough to achieve "regime change" in Damascus. So, the neocons are insistent that the U.S. government must weigh in to tip the scales in the rebels' favor.

The Israeli Factor

But why should Washington care so much about sponsoring another "regime change" in the Middle East, especially given the disastrous results in Iraq and Libya? It is rather simple: Because Israel cares about preventing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from prevailing.

Indeed, I define a neocon as one who has difficulty distinguishing between the national interests of Israel, on the one hand, and those of the United States, on the other. At this point, one would have to be blind not to see that the State Department continues to be dominated by neocon thinking.

Who profits from the turmoil in Syria and, specifically, the prospect of deeper U.S. involvement? Obviously, the various groups trying to overthrow Assad have a strong incentive to draw in the U.S. So, do the Saudis who are seeing their major investment in ousting Assad fall apart. And Assad is an ally of their regional enemy, Iran.

Over the past year or so, it also has become clear that the Netanyahu government in Israel continues to have a powerful incentive to get Washington more deeply engaged in yet another war in the area. This Israeli priority, also driven by Israel's view of Iran as its primary enemy, has been manifested in many ways.

A report on Sept. 6, 2013, by the New York Times' Judi Rudoren, writing from Jerusalem, addressed Israel's thinking in an uncommonly candid way. Her article, titled "Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria," noted that the Israelis have argued, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria's civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. Rudoren wrote:

"For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad's government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.

"'This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don't want one to win -- we'll settle for a tie,' said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. 'Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that's the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there's no real threat from Syria.'"

Later in September, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that if Israel did have to pick a winner, it would prefer the jihadis over Assad. "The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc," he explained.

Oren, who is considered very close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, added that Israel favors the more moderate elements among the Syrian rebels, but still wanted Assad's ouster even if it would result in radical Sunni Islamists coming to power in Damascus.

"We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran," Oren said, adding that this was the case even if the other "bad guys" were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

If this is actually the way Israel's leaders look at the unconscionable carnage in Syria, they seem to believe that deeper U.S. involvement, including military action, is likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict or at least that Assad will not be able to bring the country back under his control.

More broadly, Israeli leaders seem to believe that the longer Sunni and Shia are at each other's throats in Syria and across the region, the safer Israel calculates that it is. Thus, it is key not to let Assad win. And military involvement by the U.S. would be welcomed by Israel as increasing the chances that the jihadis also would not win.

The fact that Syria's main ally is Iran, with whom it has a mutual defense treaty, also plays a role in Israeli (and Saudi) calculations. If another "regime change" can be implemented in Syria, it would be a strategic blow against Iran.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 
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