As I noted in my previous post, I’m reporting from the 2013 World Summit on Counter Terrorism in Herliya, Israel. The first day’s session was entirely in Hebrew with translation via earphones (rendering my recorder irrelevant), so I’m going to rely on translations from the Israeli media to cover the highlights.
The keynote speaker was Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said that Israel would stay out of the Syria crisis unless “red lines were transgressed,” meaning retaliatory attacks directed at Israel in the event of a U.S. attack. Included in those “red lines” would also be transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah.
But he also warned that inaction by the U.S. would also have consequences. This is particularly interesting, as the conference falls six years after Israel launched an attack on Syria’s nuclear weapons development facility.
As the Times of Israel noted, most of Ya’alon’s speech was directed at challenging Western misconceptions of the region and expressing skepticism at the efforts to bring democracy to the Arab world. Of particular note was the aspirations of the Palestinians to form a state:
One of the most incredible things in a period when the notion of the nation-state is collapsing before our eyes is that there are those who are trying to advance, in one way or another, the founding of yet another nation-state — even as it remains unclear how the people of Jenin are connected to the people of Hebron, and uncertain that there is a common denominator between those in Judea and Samaria and those in Gaza.
Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit noted the incompatibility between Western norms and the intentions of jihadists in the fight against terrorism:
Western culture espouses the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other, but radical Islam is not willing to accept the other and according to its perception the “infidels” must die. Since the West places an emphasis on morality, it tries to fight terrorism while its hands are tied. The tension between the need for security and morality is also expressed by means of preventing and combating terrorism. With technological developments I predict that eventually the technology will evolve into an effective tool in fighting terrorism, but until that development will come, terrorism will have already been at work in the non-conventional arena.
A remarkable statement by former Israeli National Security Council director Uzi Arad not only questioned the effectiveness of a U.S. strike against Syria, but also its legality under international law (a point also made during today’s session by Syracuse University professor William Banks):
Syria is not a signatory to international conventions against the use of chemical weapons. You cannot say that Assad violated an international convention Syria is not signed onto.
I find it hard to believe that intervention will bring about a substantially better situation. The best thing now would be for Obama to carefully bring the crisis to an end, without creating negative ramifications in the region and the world, whether before or after an attack.
One personal observation from my interactions the past two days with Israeli officials: not a one has had a positive thing to say about President Obama.
I hope to post more thoughts later.