The planes were a jarring reminder that while standing on a Mediterranean beach just 20 miles north of Tel Aviv I was also standing less than 130 miles away from Damascus and even closer to the Syrian border. It is about the same distance from New York City to Philadelphia and that’s more than three times closer than San Francisco is to Los Angeles.
By Aaron Marcus | September 4, 2013
HERZLIYA, Israel – As I stood on the beautiful Mediterranean coast last Thursday, my calm was suddenly disrupted by the screeching sound of an Israeli jet fighter. Due to Israel’s miniscule size this is nothing unusual. It is virtually impossible for citizens and tourists to not encounter some aspect of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) during the course of an ordinary day. Security is understandably tight but Thursday was different. The planes were a jarring reminder of while I stood just 20 miles north of Tel Aviv I was also standing less than 130 miles away from Damascus and even closer to the Syrian border.
To put that into perspective, it is about the same distance from New York City to Philadelphia and that’s more than three times closer than San Francisco is to Los Angeles. In fact, the entire length of Israel is 100 miles shorter than the distance of Los Angeles to San Francisco, just less than a five hour drive. In terms of neighbors, Israel resides in a tough neighborhood. To the southwest sit Islamist terror groups in the Sinai Peninsula and Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. To the north in Lebanon, the Iranian supported proxy Hezbollah sits on hill tops that meet the Israeli border, the top is Hezbollah the bottom Israel. And of course to the northeast is Syria, a country ruled by Bashar al Assad, where Islamist terrorists, including al Qaeda, oppose Assad as part of the Free Syrian Army.
After two years of violence, Syria purportedly crossed the Obama administration’s arbitrary “red line” on August 21 by using chemical weapons against civilians. Now more than ten days later, the United States is still weighing its options on whether or not it will intervene in the Syrian civil war to punish the Assad regime. A move that culminated on Saturday with a White House announcement by President Obama cloaked in national security rhetoric making the assertion that he is justified to act at any time. Since the matter is not time sensitive, he will wait to “seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.” There the matter will be debated and voted upon. Obama has, however, already made the decision to strike Syria and may follow the same path President Bill Clinton took in 1999. Although he sought congressional approval to intervene in Kosovo, his resolution failed but he acted anyway.
All over Israel on Sunday, political and military commentators concluded that despite Obama’s rhetoric, his actions, or more accurately his inactions, are further evidence that the U.S. has already lost any leverage it may have had in the Middle East, especially in dealing with Iran. Despite the long lines in Israel for gas masks and the possibility of a retaliatory strike against Israel by Hezbollah or Syria, the bigger danger in this country remains a nuclear armed Iran. Now that Tehran sees how President Obama reacts to military dilemmas, one can only imagine the speed with which the Islamic Republic of Iran will accelerate the development of their nuclear arsenal.
If the president believes the United States is in danger, he doesn’t wait for Congress to return from summer vacation on September 9 to act, he calls Congress back into session. Either Syria poses no security risk to the American people or Obama is playing with the lives and interests of the citizens he was elected to protect. The fact that Obama’s indecision is widely seen as weakness becomes the single greatest risk to American security interests both at home and abroad. The so-called Arab Spring began after Obama encouraged young Egyptians to push for change, while speaking at Cairo University in June 2009. What do terrorists think after Obama’s inaction when the United States embassy is burned in Benghazi and four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, are killed on sovereign American soil? A year later, Obama has yet to act and make it clear that attacks against the United States will not be tolerated.
Now, Obama wants to take military action without a clear objective. Military action that would ultimately assist the al Qaeda rebels in Syria, why? There are no American lives or vital U.S. interests at risk. No Syrian group is ready to assist in creating a reliable U.S. ally should Assad fall. U.S. foreign policy for decades has been crafted to assist foreign leaders that at least partially agree to protect U.S. interests, but that caveat was never made in Egypt nor in Libya, where the president acted with UN approval but not with the approval of Congress, and it is not being made today in Syria. Assad may be evil, but so is al Qaeda and the idea that Syrians will achieve “freedom” living under the largest terrorist organization in the world is misguide at best.
President Obama’s feckless indecision diminishes America’s sovereignty and jeopardizes the safety of thousands of Americans living, studying and visiting the Middle East. While Syria may not now or ever pose a direct threat to the United States, his actions surrounding this civil war will harm American security and foreign policy interests in this region for years to come.
Aaron Marcus, a graduate of Rutgers University, is an MA candidate in Government, Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, in Israel. Mr. Marcus is also foreign correspondent for SFPPR News & Analysis.