Kerry’s rationale to attack Syria could have also justified attack on Israel over Gaza

A week ago, on August 26, Secretary of State John Kerry made the case for military action against Syria.  As we all know, a few days later, he made an even stronger statement, followed by his boss, President Obama, who is asking Congress to approve his authority to use force.  Apparently this resolution will be binding if it passes, and only advisory if it does not.

There are many excellent reasons to oppose military action already discussed on Mondoweiss by Phyllis Bennis and Max Blumenthal.  But what struck me when reading Kerry’s remarks was that his rationale would have paved the way for Russia to unilaterally attack Israel in the wake of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-2009.

Kerry’s reasoning was as follows.  First, the events in Syria “should shock the conscience of the world” and “defies any code of morality,” as it involved “the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders.”  He later offered the number of Syrian dead at 1429, including 426 children.  Second, “the meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict on Syria itself,” since “this is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all.”  Third, “the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the U.N. investigation.”  Kerry “made it very clear to [the Syrian Foreign Minister] that if the regime, as he argued, had nothing to hide, then their response should be immediate: immediate transparency, immediate access.”  Finally, as Kerry added in his August 29 statement, “because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it should.”

In 2009, Vladimir Putin or Dimitry Medvedev could have made virtually the same speech about Israel.  First, the IDF indiscriminately attacked Palestinian civilians during its onslaught, and the eventual death toll of about 1400, including 313 to 431 children, is quite similar to Kerry’s figures, which are far higher than those estimated by other sources.  Second, the meaning of the attack was bigger than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because it was about the use of indiscriminate military force upon a civilian population “that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all.”  Third, Israel adamantly refused to cooperate in any capacity with the U.N. Commission headed by Richard Goldstone assigned to investigate the conduct of all parties to the conflict. Finally, any attempt to impose punishment or sanctions upon Israel through the U.N. Security Council was doomed to fail due to “guaranteed U.S. obstructionism.”

So Russia could have claimed the same “authority” to circumvent the U.N. Security Council, rendered powerless by an inevitable U.S. veto, and deal Israel the punishing blow it deserved for its “conscience-shocking” behavior in Gaza.

Like any analogy, this one is not perfect.  There are differences, some significant and some less so, between today’s situation with Syria and Israel in 2009.  But for the most part, those differences make a stronger case for Russian military action against Israel than for Kerry’s case against Syria.  First, there truly is no doubt who was responsible for the killing of so many civilians, including children, in Gaza.  While the general consensus among the political and media elite is that Assad is to blame for a sarin attack, Max Blumenthal has exposed the likelihood that Israeli intelligence has spoon-fed that conclusion to a willingly gullible audience.  As for Israel’s excuse that the high civilian death toll in Gaza was due to Hamas militants hiding behind civilians, the Goldstone Report rejected the allegation.  Moreover, it surely is true that Syrian rebels are physically intertwined with the civilian population, thereby endangering the lives of those civilians.  Assad could make the same claim that Israel has relentlessly repeated ad nauseam for years.

While it is true that Israel’s slaughter of Gaza civilians was mostly achieved through conventional weapons (with the exception of white phosphorus for several dozen victims), both events were clear violations of fundamental principles of international law and military conduct:  use of chemical weapons in Syria, and launching an aggressive war and failing to distinguish between fighters and civilians in Gaza. Perhaps the most important difference is that in Syria, the Assad regime and rebel forces had fought to a stalemate, while Israel always had an overwhelming military advantage in Gaza and essentially could inflict as much damage as it wanted while suffering a bare minimum of casualties.  Indeed, when Kerry called Syrian civilians “the world’s most vulnerable people,” he offered no reason why they should be considered more vulnerable than the 1.5 million captive inhabitants of the tiny Gaza strip.

Of course, those afflicted with patriotic amnesia will contend that Russia has no moral authority to punish Israel for attacking civilians because of its history of even worse conduct in Chechnya.  The notion that the U.S. (napalm, agent orange, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, millions dead in Southeast Asia and hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan with millions made refugees) has more moral authority act as global cop, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner is beyond absurd.

Though I think it should be obvious, I certainly am not advocating that Russia should have launched a unilateral attack against Israel.  My point is that the US case for doing so against Syria is as morally bankrupt and legally vacuous as a hypothetical Russian case for attacking Israel, even more so.  The fact that a Russian strike against Israel has never been contemplated as a remote possibility should make us all question why the Obama/Kerry plan should even be debatable.

About David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.
Posted in Gaza, syria, US Policy in the Middle East

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  1. marc b. says:

    and what about Egypt? likely thousands dead (although it seems impossible to get accurate numbers) thousands more imprisoned in a military coup last month. not much talk of surgical strikes on the Egyptian military and the restoration of democracy.

  2. tommy says:

    Kerry’s yes vote authorizing use of military force in Iraq disqualifies him as a minor war criminal from providing any foreign policy inputs. He should have been stripped of his position, privileges, and wealth after Obama’s election, but instead has been elevated to chief of America’s criminal foreign policy org.

  3. Citizen says:

    The big difference is that the US military is by far the strongest in the world. As Goering would’ve put it, might makes right. We can bet our lives that subject analogy will never be debated on America’s main media news.

    • Antidote says:

      “As Goering would’ve put it, might makes right. We can bet our lives that subject analogy will never be debated on America’s main media news.”

      Unless one’s grasp of history is limited to msm, be it American or European, Goering is hardly the first name that comes to mind wrt to the concept of ‘might makes right’. At least there’s Wikipedia

      link to en.wikipedia.org

      Wiki also provides a link to the text of a book published under that title in the US in 1890. As with many other American precedents, you’ll find many echoes in Hitler’s Mein Kampf

      link to en.wikipedia.org

  4. Its the american/israeli hypocrisy we all know. BUT what israel did in gaza is well known and World could have intervened, in syria however we dont know what happend, so its not the same.

  5. Tuyzentfloot says:

    I saw Obama earlier use the approach of ‘holding Assad responsible’ (I don’t have a link) which was surprising. It reminded me of how Israel holds Hamas responsible for anything that happens in Sinai. It doesn’t mean they accuse Hamas of being behind attacks from Sinai or Gaza , although they can be vague about that.

    Since then Obama has become much more explicit. The highest estimate for the death toll is used. The highest responsibility for Assad is assumed. I don’t think it means that’s what Obama’s team wanted to do all along, just that they now think they’re better off by doing something. I call that damage control.

    Meanwhile there’s a lot of people pushing for doing more. Either they’re hoping for bringing more balance to the conflict so that it can drag on much longer.
    Or they’re hoping to overthrow Assad. But even if things don’t escalate, the idea that the US’ standing will improve if they bomb Assad is doubtful. Assad may well decide to retaliate asymmetrically: by doing nothing and by just asserting his valiant resistance against the foreign attackers, including Obama who claimed Assad had to go.

  6. RE: “Kerry’s rationale to attack Syria could have also justified attack on Israel over Gaza”

    MY COMMENT: Sanctimony, thy name is America! ! !*

    * NOTHING WAS EVER DONE ABOUT THIS: “Israel May Have Violated Arms Pact, U.S. Says”, By David S. Cloud and Greg Myre, New York Times, 1/28/07

    [EXCERPT] WASHINGTON, Jan 27 — The Bush administration will inform Congress on Monday that Israel may have violated agreements with the United States when it fired American-supplied cluster munitions into southern Lebanon during its fight with Hezbollah last summer, the State Department said Saturday.

    The finding, though preliminary, has prompted a contentious debate within the administration over whether the United States should penalize Israel for its use of cluster munitions against towns and villages where Hezbollah had placed its rocket launchers.

    Cluster munitions are anti-personnel weapons that scatter tiny but deadly bomblets over a wide area. The grenadelike munitions, tens of thousands of which have been found in southern Lebanon, have caused 30 deaths and 180 injuries among civilians since the end of the war, according to the United Nations Mine Action Service.

    Midlevel officials at the Pentagon and the State Department have argued that Israel violated American prohibitions on using cluster munitions against populated areas, according to officials who described the deliberations. But other officials in both departments contend that Israel’s use of the weapons was for self-defense and aimed at stopping the Hezbollah attacks that claimed the lives of about 40 Israeli soldiers and civilians and at worst was only a technical violation.

    Any sanctions against Israel would be an extraordinary move by the Bush administration, a strong backer of Israel, and several officials said they expected little further action, if any, on the matter. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to nytimes.com

    P.S. ALSO SEE: “Cluster Munitions at a Glance”, armscontrol.org, November 2012

    [EXCERPT] . . . Although cluster munitions first saw use in World War II and more than 50 countries have since acquired stockpiles of such arms, efforts to regulate or ban the use of cluster munitions gained greater attention and momentum after the summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, a Shiite organization that the United States identifies as a terrorist group. Israel’s extensive cluster munitions use in the last 72 hours of that conflict resulted in an estimated one million unexploded bomblets scattered across southern Lebanon, arousing some strong condemnation. Jan Egeland, then-UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, blasted Israel’s use of cluster munitions as “shocking and completely immoral.” . . .

    SOURCE – link to armscontrol.org

    • P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “18-year-old Lebanese killed by Israeli cluster bomb”, By Mohammed Zaatari, The Daily Star, 8/10/13

      SIDON, Lebanon: An 18-year-old was killed Saturday when an Israeli cluster bomb exploded in Hasbaya, south Lebanon.

      Hisham Abdel-Al, a young shepherd, was working on a farm in the Hallat village when he stepped on a cluster bomb, dying instantly.

      Israel dropped some 4 million cluster bombs in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 war, most during the last 48 hours of the conflict, according to the United Nations.

      Hundreds have been wounded in cluster-bomb related incidents since 2000 and 2006.

      The Army’s Lebanon Mine Action Center along with the U.N. and other international organizations have been working since 2006 to remove the deadly ordinance from the south.

      SOURCE – link to dailystar.com.lb

  7. gingershot says:

    The UN Team will be able to tell something from the ‘Sarin signature’ of the CW used in Ghouta

    There may actually be a ‘Sarin signature’ of sorts to help distinguish where it came from – apparently the Syrian Army Sarin is professional grade – This technological sophistication may be a key point when U.N. investigators release their report on the Damascus attack”

    That doesn’t mean Prince Bandar didn’t pay off some flunky Syrian CW commander to carry out the attack, in an attempt to unseat Assad, or some Syrian CW Commander didn’t fire off a volley without orders as an act against the regime designed to bring in the West, rather than defect to the Syrian Rebel side

    ==========================

    Assad’s sarin stockpiles, which the United States says were used in the Aug. 21 attack, reveal a “technological mastery” of chemical weapons, according to the French.

    The sarin is stored in binary form — the two chemical precursors necessary to make the gas are kept separate and are only mixed immediately before use.

    This technological sophistication may be a key point when U.N. investigators release their report on the Damascus attack: If they find that the toxic agent used in the attack was an advanced form of sarin — containing chemical stabilizers and dispersal agents — the weapon will most likely have come from Syrian regime stockpiles

    link to blog.foreignpolicy.com

  8. RE: “Kerry’s rationale to attack Syria could have also justified attack on Israel over Gaza”

    TAKE ACTION! ! ! TAKE ACTION! ! ! TAKE ACTION! ! !

    ● FROM RootsAction.org: Prevent an Attack on Syria Now

    If you live in the U.S. and want to email Obama, your senators and representative, expressing opposition to an attack on Syria, please click HERE.

    If you reside outside the United States, you can still sign this petition by clicking HERE.