The photos of the scores of victims of Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical weapon attack Wednesday probably shocked even those who are used to seeing such atrocities. Yes, Assad and his loyalists can do such things. An official inquest is in order of course, but according to Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon, Israel -- the foremost intelligence source in the Middle East -- believes the reports of what transpired in Syria on Wednesday are in fact the use of chemical weapons.
The international community will debate the incident. The Security Council has convened and has expressed its concern, but there is a real chance that even this horrible crime will not change the parties' regional interests. The Americans would like to see Assad removed from power, but they will not lift a finger to make it happen. Well, maybe a finger, but nothing more.
The Syrian civil war is slowly turning into a global conflict and starting to remind historians of the 1936 civil war in Spain, which was a prelude of sorts to World War II.
Why did Assad do it? Can his regime still feign legitimacy after using chemical weapons on civilians? The Iranians and the Russians are not asking themselves that question. They have invested fortunes in the House of Assad for decades and they have no intention of forfeiting their gains -- or the political capital.
Israel has refrained from interfering in the situation because it does not know who the rebels really are, and whether or not they are al-Qaida operatives, and because it has nothing to gain from taking action. So far, we have become accustomed to the fact that the Assad regime honors its agreements -- the 1974 disengagement of forces agreement between Israel and Syria has so far been rigorously maintained.
We cannot, however, afford to become complacent, despite the relative calm in the area, be it in the Golan Heights or vis-à-vis Hezbollah on the Lebanese border. We must also ask ourselves how far the regional rulers would be willing to go in their fight against the hated Jews or the evil Western armies present on their soil, if they are willing to unleash chemical weapons against their own brethren.
The past few weeks have seen some age-old questions rehashed, mainly why does the world -- and the enlightened West -- act as it does and discriminate between the warring parties in the various Arab Spring countries. After all, the force exerted by the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood pales in comparison to what happened on the outskirts of Damascus. Wednesday bustled with reactions, but if the world does nothing, its silence will send an unequivocal message that mass killing is no longer taboo.
The world needs to cry out and intervene in Syria, but instead it is standing on the sidelines, politely admonishing the regime. If such regimes are not censured immediately, repeat offenses become the norm. Under these circumstances any outcry counts, no matter where it is in the world, but what is needed most is the outcry of the Arab nations, including that of the Israeli-Arabs.