Watching the daily newscasts it’s impossible to escape seeing and hearing the horrific events that are taking place not too far away from where I’m sitting now. The impact of telecommunications is unescapable. From here in Jerusalem to Damascus, just to the north of Israel, it’s only 135 miles.
The so-called ‘civil war’ has been going on in Syria for some seven years now and nobody seems able to predict how and when it will end. Some pundits claim it started when climate changes caused crop failures, which led to food shortages, setting off a series of – initially peaceful – protests, but which turned violent when government forces opened fire on the protesters. Who exactly is fighting whom is complex in the extreme, with a large number of different elements involved, among them fundamentalist groups such as ISIS and its offshoots, some of them fighting against one another.
What is clear is that President Bashar al-Assad is determined to hang on to power at all costs and is not prepared to give way to any of the various forces seeking to unseat him. To this end it appears that he has enrolled the support of Russia and Iran, both of which have sent forces to support him in his battle to overcome his enemies. What is obvious is that neither of those two countries is doing so for altruistic motives, and each has an agenda of its own to promote, whether it’s to secure a foothold in the Middle East, as is the case with Russia, or to extend its influence in the region, as is the case with Iran.
What each of those countries sees as the ultimate aim is the issue with which the rest of the world – and Israel in particular – should be seeking to grapple, and it is that which presumably ought to concern world leaders. Unfortunately, many of those leaders are far too preoccupied with domestic matters, and above all with staying in power, to devote too much time and attention to dealing with the skirmishes in what to them is a remote spot. Millions of Syrians have been made homeless and are now forced to live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries or have embarked on the long and dangerous journey to Europe.
But for Israel, Syria is our next-door neighbor, and what we see going on just over the border is both horrifying and terrifying. It is horrifying because any person with an iota of humanitarian feeling cannot fail to quail and wail at the scenes of bloodshed and misery caused by the relentless bombing of civilian neighbourhoods, and worst of all the chemical attacks that have left innocent bystanders dead, injured or gasping for breath. Scenes of prostate bodies, of crying children unable to stand, of families torn asunder by the death and destruction rained upon them from the sky have become our daily fare, and it seems heartless to sit and watch all this happening from the comfort of our homes.
But worse still, it is terrifying to us in Israel because it makes us wonder, if this is how Assad treats his own people, what would he do to us, given half a chance? One thing is obvious: we cannot rely on his or anyone else’s sense of humanity when it comes to sending missiles in our direction. Still today, after the State of Israel has been in existence for almost seventy years, the only way of defending ourselves seems to be to make sure that Assad, and anyone else so inclined, knows that they will pay a heavy price if they attack us. It’s not a very comfortable or comforting feeling, but we must hope that it is clear to all concerned that only our own strength and resilience continues to keep our enemies at bay.