On Syria and ‘the right to respond’ to Zionist aggression

by Amer Mohsen, Al-Akhbar English

Israeli strikes against Syria and its army are not new. It is rather a tradition that began in the late 1990s with strikes against Syrian army locations and radars in Lebanon. These strikes shifted to the inside of the country after the war in Iraq through attacks on sensitive targets in the Syrian interior, down to direct and repeated assaults since 2012, and the intensification of the war which has exhausted the national army and weakened its defenses.

After each strike, Arab voices emerge rebuking the Syrian regime over Israel’s attacks against it and the lack of response on its part. It is as if these assaults were a war on the regime itself, rather than a war on Syria, and as if it is shameful to be targeted by Israel, rather than to ally and cooperate with it.

In the mainstream media, the users of this logic are absolved of the “consequences” of standing in solidarity with an Arab army under attack by Israel on several fronts, or demanding that their governments respond to the aggression, or at least of using the occasion to reflect on their position and the role of their countries in the conflict with Zionism and the West.

The fact is that any “stance” other than these options – as extreme or shocking or negative as it may seem – is mere empty rhetoric. In such cases, the solidarity and empathy rituals are performed by the people just for themselves, in order to affirm their identity and values, and preserve their self-image – not because their sentiments will benefit Syria in any way.

Instead, a wave of gloating, in the cheap sense of the word, is launched. The aggression is reduced to an occasion to repeat the same, ever-ready sarcastic remarks about the “rejectionist” regime, which Israel targets repeatedly while it maintains the “right to respond.”

This begs a logical question to the Arabs who are fascinated by this paradox: What exactly is it that you want, and in your own country before Syria? Would you want an alternative regime which vows to respond and confront Israel, one that knows how to mobilize its elements (whereby everyone would live a life of war, with an economy of war, and a media of war)? Or do you want a regime that is approved by Israel, and would thus not threaten or target it? Or is the end-goal that the Syrian regime abandon the rhetoric and slogan of resistance, since it is unable to achieve victory or respond to the attacks in kind (and what is the best alternative in this case)?

If we take this argument to its logical conclusions, and accept that the Syrian army is, indeed, too weak to confront Israel and is incapable of starting a war even in response to a blatant aggression, where should this conclusion take us?

Syria, in fact, lost the military parity race with the enemy after the fall of the socialist system and the halting of Gulf support. In 1996, military spending in Syria dropped almost 10 times less than its Israeli counterpart, while the budgets were roughly the same in the 1980s. It is true that any war under Israel’s terms, even before the year 2011, would have implied the destruction of Syria, its infrastructure, and its army from air. Damascus would have stood alone and isolated, while the Arab countries supported and covered the Israeli aggression. Those who rebuke the Syrian army when Israel attacks it today will not stand by its side during the battle.

Some who have good intentions, like As’ad AbuKhalil, demand an immediate military response as a matter of principle, regardless of the balance of power, the cost, or the next step (and later taunts Saddam Hussein…). But most of those who are gloating do not actually want a confrontation or its requirements. The resistance, for example, is based on the alliance of non-collaborative regimes, and the unification of armies and fronts in the region, rather than on sowing division among the Arab peoples, betting on attacking Iran, and installing a regime that is hostile to Iraq in Syria and another hostile to everyone in Iraq, etc.

What will not be forgotten is that when Israel once attacked the Syrian Arab Army, some Arabs chose to stand on the sidewalk, and ridicule it and its martyrs. This is understandable, and even logical, for a wide segment of the Arab political community, which have even taken a far worse position. To them, the saying “fight the oppressors with oppressors” is no longer a mere justified necessity. It has become more of an ideology.

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