As I write this article, I can look out at the headquarters building of the Israel Air Force, where I served decades ago. The news of the day is the indescribably horrific chemical attack by the Syrian air force on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria.
Knesset member Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party, immediately called on U.S. President Donald Trump to lead the world and take action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the horrible images from Syria must shake every human being and Israel sharply condemns the use of chemical weapons.”
But Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted about the Drudge Report and Susan Rice. On Syria there was silence.
Of course, if President Barack Obama did not act in Syria, can we expect Trump to do so? The Russians have been systematically engaging in war crimes in Syria for past two years. Are the Russians going to care that the Syrians are committing even more heinous war crimes? So now can we expect the United States or the world to do anything? Sadly, no.
On the other hand, we in Israel, a nation that emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust proclaiming “Never again,” a nation whose leaders speak incessantly about the atrocities of the Holocaust, have done little to stop the genocide that has taken place 100 miles from where we sit.
Yes, I know all the reasons we should not take action in Syria. It is not in our interest to become involved. The world will condemn us. The rebels do not want our help. I can go on and on.
It is truly not in Israel’s interest to attack. However, what moral right do we have to blame the world for its silence when our brothers and sisters (or, more accurately these days, our aunts, uncles and grandparents) were being led to their deaths by the Nazis?
How can we speak about “the lessons of the Holocaust” while we stand idly by and do nothing?
We have shown that if it is in our strategic interest to attack—e.g., when Hezbollah tries to move advanced arms into Lebanon—we are able to attack successfully.
Israel cannot stop the war in Syria. That said, after nothing was done for five years, 500,000 people are dead. Moreover, thanks to the Russian and Iranian intervention, it looks as if a mass murderer will remain in power.
Still, the question resounds: Can we, Israel, morally sit on the sidelines and do nothing? Might we at least destroy the aircraft that dropped the sarin gas or, possibly, threaten to destroy the rest of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Air Force?
Shouldn’t some actions, like chemical warfare, be out of bounds, beyond the pale?
Sometimes moral imperatives must take precedence over national interests. I join Bennett in calling on Trump to lead the way. However, I am pretty sure he will not. And if Trump does not, then we must go it alone.
The souls of our lost 6 million are crying out in judgment: Have you learned nothing?
Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.