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Wistful in Jerusalem

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
June 15, 2012
Weekly Standard

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Can Israelis be wistful? It is not the characteristic we usually associate with them; more typically they are said to be tough, sweet, angry, thoughtful, demanding—not wistful.

Yet that is how I am finding many during my current visit, as I asked them to analyze events in the region in which they live and what to do about them. They look north to Syria and see the savagery, the massacres, the now over 14,000 dead, and the world doing absolutely nothing. "You get no help in this region if you are weak," one IDF general said to me. "It is a reminder to us of just what would have happened to us and could still if we were not strong enough to defend ourselves. But now we watch as these women and children are slaughtered and no one acts to save them. We can't, for all the obvious reasons; it isn't up to us, it's up to the Arabs and to Europe and to you. And you do nothing."

Enter wistfulness. The Israelis know their security is tied to the United States, and no country in the world roots with more energy than Israel for American success and American power. So when we refuse to use it, they shake their heads and wonder why, what does it mean, what are the causes, where does it lead? You could stop the killing in Syria in a week, they say. Think of the lives you would save—and it would hurt Iran and Hezbollah. What is Washington thinking? And of course they wonder what is the meaning for Israel if its champion and key ally thinks itself lacking the power to stop this mass slaughter. They read some of our official statements, and our leaks about how hard it would be to do anything useful in Syria ("the air defenses are so strong" and "the army is large and well-equipped") and shake their heads. About Syrian air defenses and the full capabilities of the Syrian Army they know a lot, and they know these statements are excuses for inaction rather than careful judgments backed by hard intel.

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