Following the use of chemical weapons in Syria, there is much talk around the world, but a small voice still whispers: What, under the circumstances, is best for the Jewish state?
The circumstances themselves are unclear. The United States is slowly awakening and moving its navy in the direction of Syria. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has threatened Syria with harsh punishment. But Russia has warned the U.S. not to attack their ally in Damascus. Will Russian ships come between American destroyers and Syria? Will there be a repeat of the Cuban missile crisis, where over 13 unforgettable days, John Fitzgerald Kennedy stood off against Nikita Khrushchev?
Bashar Assad has bought himself some time, taking a page from his Iranian patrons, masters of buying time on the nuclear issue. Assad will let U.N. inspectors tour the neighborhood near his capital that was the alleged target of a nerve gas attack. A report will be compiled, followed by appeals. In time, Assad hopes, the West will view his recent chemical attack as so much polluted water under the bridge.
I am not convinced that the West won't ultimately decide to issue Assad a "final warning." Or what is more likely -- it will strike his criminal regime in a moderate and measured way. Symbolically, in a way intended merely to signal that next time will be worse. This will not be an attack meant to topple Assad regime.
But Syria experts have moved beyond this question. They are asking what Assad will do if the West does indeed hit him hard? Will he respond? Does he have the capacity to do so? In other words, will he dare to involve Israel in his civil war? Not through unintentional fire as has occurred over the last two months, but intentionally, albeit in small quantities?
Israelis are divided over the answer. Some believe that Assad is an enemy we can cope with, despite his growing dependence on the ayatollahs in Tehran and his increasing role in the axis of evil from Iran's capital to Hezbollah's offices in Beirut. It is better, they say, for Assad to hold on to power, battered and injured and even more dependent on the Iranians; better the devil we know.
Others believe that his fall is necessary to bolster Israel's strategic position; to interrupt the territorial contiguity from Tehran to Beirut. But the alternative to Assad is not any better. The rebels are Muslim zealots lacking any culture of governance or recognition of international norms. Their creed of terrorism will manifest itself near Israel's border fence in the Golan, and even though Israel will have the legitimate right to hit back at them, international recognition of this right will not last long. Israel has a lot of experience in this arena.
The scale still tips in favor of overthrowing Assad, but without overt Israeli involvement, lest Israel lose more than it stands to gain. Everything depends on the West, which so far is all talk. All the moderates of the world with no differences of creed, race or sex expect the West to put an end to the Syrian slaughter even if it must use a strong hand.