Jay Altura/the Gauntlet

Israel’s cautious silence before the storm

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As the situation in Syria heats up, Israel has so far refrained from making statements on any plans for military action despite its antagonistic history with Syria.

Israel’s silence seems strange. Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister, is known for his aggressive policies. He has never been hesitant to hide his contempt for Israel’s neighbours, but Israel and the disaporic Jewish community are viewing the events unfolding in Syria not only as a human rights tragedy, but also through a historical lens which threatens military conflict. Netanyahu’s strongly worded tweet, “I will not allow anyone to harm the State of Israel. If someone thinks of harming the tranquility of the holiday, he knows what awaits him,” recalls the horrors of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Jewish people worldwide welcome the New Year and Yom Kippur, a holiday set aside for prayer and atonement. The hesitancy of the U.S. government on the Syrian crisis and longstanding disputes between Israel and many of its neighbours forces Jews to view their holiest day with caution.

Golda Meir, who served as Israeli Prime Minister during the Yom Kippur War, was willing to surrender the possibility of a pre-emptive Israeli strike to guarantee U.S. assistance in 1973. Although Israeli intelligence was aware of a possible Egyptian attack six hours before it occurred, the U.S. message was clear — if Israel attacked first, they would receive no aid from their American allies. Meir, trusting her U.S. allies, refused to strike pre-emptively. American hesitancy regarding the Syrian conflict could fracture U.S.-Israeli relations, with no guarantee that Netanyahu could be persuaded to agree to a wait-and-see approach. The Israeli government and populace feel increasingly isolated by U.S. diplomacy according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. Coupled with Netanyahu’s military background and record as Prime Minister, violence spilling into Israel’s borders from over the Golan Heights appears likely.

America’s reluctance to enter the Syrian conflict by land will still affect Israel’s decision to attack Syria. Israel does not want to appear exposed to Iran and her allies who, although different without Iran’s right-wing president Ahmadinejad, have always expressed contempt toward the Jewish state. Though America’s reluctance to engage in the Syrian conflict does not indicate a severing of Israeli-American relations, it forces the Israeli government to recognize the extent of their isolation. Despite Israel’s superior military technology, the Yom Kippur War demonstrated to Israeli leaders that a military victory against surrounding Arab states would always be uncertain. This upcoming Yom Kippur might be a wake-up call for current Israeli leaders to acknowledge mounting isolation in the face of perceived and real threats.

Israel functions as a linchpin in the latest Middle Eastern conflicts. With the U.K. and likely the E.U. refusing to intervene, the world will look to America and her silent and war-weary Israeli allies for action.

Israel has many potential moves. Netanyahu could order pre-emptive strikes to appease the hardliners in his coalition government, despite Israel’s geographical isolation from the U.S. and vulnerability to attack from surrounding nations. Alternately, he might allow violence to spill over Israel’s borders to display the horrific human rights abuses of the Syrian civil war before the international community to garner support.

If America favours military intervention, the tensions between Israel, which has been a steadfast American ally, and her neighbours could reach a boiling point. The Syrian conflict is destabilizing an already unstable region, the Israeli government sits in grim silence and the possibility of American intervention remains uncertain. Netanyahu’s next decision appears critical to galvanizing the international community’s efforts towards ending the domino effect of conflict that has reached Syria. Perhaps not much has changed since 1973 after all. Israel faces a delicate situation. The next moves could turn the situation explosive.