The Syrian Disconnection

Why Israel Can’t Be Part of Obama’s Calculus on Syria

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

From Tel Aviv, so the usual map sites say, you could drive to Damascus in three hours and 20 minutes, if only there were no borders, barbed wire or war in the way. From vacation cottages in the Upper Galilee, where city people go to find some quiet, you can look across the Jordan to the ridge that barely blocks a view of the Syrian capital. Just past the horizon, impossibly close to us, people are killing their countrymen. Cities are being crushed into rubble.

Israel is a place with very little agreement on anything. Perhaps the closest thing to a national emotional consensus is horror at what’s happening in Syria. But there’s also unusually wide agreement, especially among policy and strategic experts, that Israel can do pretty much nothing to affect the outcome of the Syrian conflict. At most, it can take limited steps to protect narrow Israeli security interests. For now, the government and military appear to be partners in this consensus.

Put differently: The Israeli airstrikes over the weekend weren’t a bid to push the United States to intervene in Syria. Senator John McCain’s attempt to use the Israeli operations to bolster his case for much wider American military action shows more confusion than logic. The American debate is about intervention on a different scale, aimed at achieving different goals. Israel isn’t part of that discussion.

Besides the airstrikes, one other piece of evidence has been adduced recently to show that Israel is pushing America to act. Last month, a top Israeli intelligence officer asserted that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against rebels—meaning that it had crossed the line that President Obama set for an American response. Gigabytes of analysis have been devoted to divining the purpose of the statement and who was involved in the decision to make it.

Read the rest here.

Gershom Gorenberg