UPDATED: Four major developments help bring focus to Syria debate Comment on this post ↓
September 4th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Democrats in House dither,

Israel fires warning shot,

AIPAC supports Obama plan 

Israeli President Shimon Peres reassures his people about Syria counter-attack. Click image to enlarge.

THERE ARE SO MANY DIFFERENT threads to the national and international debate on Syria it is difficult to discern what is most significant.
There is, of course, endless bloviating, especially on U.S. television news, where new facts are scarce but irrelevant opinions plentiful.
Four major developments, however, caught our attention, so we turn our gaze on them today.
The first, is the surprising news from Politico that President Obama’s party in Congress is not united in support of him striking Syria. The second is the test of a missile defense system by Israel on Tuesday, which has caused ripples around the world.
Then there is Israeli President Shimon Peres saying he does not think Syria will retaliate to an American strike by launching an attack on Israel, and fourth, the American Israel Political Action Committee’s statement supporting the president.

UPDATE: The New York Times has just published a story on the very first topic we listed earlier today: Obama Faces Barrier in His Own Party on Syria
“Congressional Democrats, torn over involving the United States in another unpredictable Middle East war, are emerging as a major barrier to President Obama’s plan to strike Syria,” writes Jeremy W. Peters. We were first!

THE FIRST SURPRISE is on the minority side of the House of Representatives, where the Republicans have been blocking every initiative of President Obama for the past three years, since they regained the majority in 2010.

The Guardian story about the Israeli missile test on Tuesday. Click image to enlarge.

In a story headlined Nancy Pelosi’s test Ginger Gibson at Politico reports that the Democrats are hardly united in their support of the president.
“[Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi is facing one of her biggest tests as House minority leader in helping muscle a military strike on Syria through the House,” Gibson reports.
“With a majority of House Republicans unlikely to support President Barack Obama’s use of force resolution (no surprise here), Pelosi’s Democrats will be key to passing an authorization of force resolution …
“It’s a somewhat unusual position for House Democrats, who have been only marginally important since losing the House majority in 2010.
“But if they joined with a handful of Republicans — including House Speaker John Boehner — to approve a Syria strike, they would be following a pattern that worked earlier in the year when Democrats helped Republicans pass the fiscal cliff deal and aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy.”
So it seems to come down to how many Democrats in the House will defect, joining the majority Republicans in voting against the president.
Also of note, however, was Speaker John Boehner’s unequivocal support of the president expressed after a meeting at the White House. It remains to be seen how many members of his party will follow his lead – they have not been too disciplined in the recent past, to say the least.
Let the head count begin.
Meanwhile in the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday, Israel flexed its muscles – sending jitters through financial markets and political capitals around the world.

The web site of Army Technology which describes the Patriot anti0missile system on which Israel’s Arrow system is based. Click image to enlarge.

The Guardian in the U.K. had the most complete report on the missile test and the fallout in its story headlined Israeli test of anti-missile defence system causes jitters across region
Reporting from Jerusalem, Harriet Sherwood writes:
“Israel fired a target missile to test a new missile defence system on Tuesday, triggering alerts across a region braced nervously for impending international military strikes against Syria.
“Although Israeli officials said the test launch was a routine exercise, it caused jitters in global financial markets amid the military and diplomatic uncertainty since chemical weapons were unleashed on Syrian civilians last month.”
Sherwood then reports the obvious: the test is seen as a warning shot “across the bow” (in nautical terms) to Syria not to try anything when the U.S. strikes:
“Some observers saw the test’s timing as a conspicuous display of Israel’s military power ahead of an expected escalation of the Syrian crisis in the coming weeks, and possible retaliatory attacks by the Damascus regime against Israel,” Sherwood writes.
“The Israeli defence ministry confirmed it had launched a Sparrow target missile at 9.15am local time on Tuesday. It said the test of the Arrow anti-missile system was successful.”
The Israeli missile defense shield was derived from the American “Patriot” system deployed during the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. Israel has, of course, vastly improved on the U.S. version with reports of over 90 percent success rates in knocking down projectiles lobbed from Gaza at Israeli communities nearby.
According to the Army-Technology web site which bills itself as “news, views and contacts from the global Army industry,” the “Patriot is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defence system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
“As well as the US, Patriot is in service in Egypt, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.”
I suppose the Israeli version, dubbed “Arrow” doesn’t count for this list because it is not “made in America.”
“Patriot missile systems were deployed by US forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The systems were stationed in Kuwait and successfully destroyed a number of hostile surface-to-surface missiles, using the new PAC-3 and guidance enhanced missiles.”
What the promotional blurb omits is the reportedly dismal success rate of the first generation of Patriots. The Israelis have so vastly improved the technology – and kill rate – that the two versions have become incomparable.
In an interesting counter-point to the missile test on Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post carried a reassurance from Israel’s president that his countrymen should not panic.
In a story headlined Peres doubts that Syria will wage war against Israel  Greer Fay Cashman reports:
“President Shimon Peres does not believe Syria will wage war against Israel.

The web site of the influential and little known lobbying group AIPAC. Click image to enlarge.

“At a reception that he hosted on Tuesday for heads of diplomatic missions in Israel and for honorary consuls representing countries that do not have embassies here, Peres said he did not believe Syria would attack Israel because Syria did not have the deterrence, strength or defense that Israel did.”
Peres is certainly correct on these points, but perhaps underestimates the irrationality of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has not proven too rational in provoking international outrage over his use of weapons of mass destruction on his own people.
“Israel developed sophisticated missiles and had one of the best security forces of modern times,” Cashman reported that Peres said.
“Syrian President Bashar Assad does not have the right to be a leader after killing 100,000 of his own people,” Peres reportedly said.
The final development of major significance was the statement by perhaps the most influential – and least known – lobbying group on Capitol Hill, the American Israel Political Action Committee, AIPAC.
It’s web site  describes AIPAC this way: “Consistently ranked as the most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill, AIPAC is a bipartisan American membership organization that seeks to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel.”
On Tuesday, it gave its seal of approval to the president’s plan in Aipac statement on Syria resolution.
“AIPAC urges Congress to grant the President the authority he has requested to protect America’s national security interests and dissuade the Syrian regime’s further use of unconventional weapons,” the group said.
“The civilized world cannot tolerate the use of these barbaric weapons, particularly against an innocent civilian population including hundreds of children.”
With that blessing, the ball is now firmly in the hands of the 535 members of the House and Senate.

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4 Responses  
  • Jack van Dijk writes:
    September 4th, 2013

    Let’s not trust the Israeli’s, they do not care. They have atom weapons and refuse to sign the proper agreements.

    • Warren writes:
      September 4th, 2013

      Methinks the Israelis care a lot more than Americans do, Jack.
      They are within easy range of Assad’s 100,000 missiles … we are not.
      If he decides to retaliate by attacking Israel, the Israelis have a lot more to lose than we do.

      • Jack van Dijk writes:
        September 4th, 2013

        I have different thoughts and ideas about Israel so I will stay out of any discussion.

  • Maidstone in Kent writes:
    September 4th, 2013

    Without a mandate from the United Nations, any US military action against Syria would be illegal under international law.
    This doesn’t seem to be figuring into the debate in America, at all.
    From here, it is a replay of 2003, when George Bush paid mere lip service to the UN, having made up his mind to invade Iraq long before Colin Powell made such a fool of himself at the Security Council.
    The legality of military action without a mandate from the UN was certainly discussed when the British Parliament voted against it.

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