Refugee ruminations

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, September 11, 2015.

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Reflections on the perils of American infirmity, Iranian hegemony, Syrian misery, Arab hypocrisy, and Tikkun Olam orthodoxy.

The Arab refugee tsunami washing across Europe demands not only a broad-scale humanitarian response. It requires a deep re-think of Western defense and diplomatic policies as they apply to this region.

1. Abdication. To a great extent, the refugee tsunami is a function of Western inaction in the face of the suffering endured by millions of Syrians in that country’s four-year-long civil war. One quarter of a million men, women and children have been killed, and at least two million refugees been created.

Despite this mammoth misery, the West has preferred to sit back and do nothing. US President Obama, in particular, retreated from his self-declared red lines which should have triggered US intervention, especially after chemical weapons were used. But Obama recoils from attempting to impose any order built on Western ideals and American global leadership – concepts that he finds morally problematic, even illegitimate.

But what happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East. The war has brought about a multiplication of radical Islamic actors, and ISIS and Iran have become predominant forces with globally expansionist agendas. First came the terrorist exports, with European Moslem veterans of the Syrian wars blowing back into Europe to blow up trains and attack journalists and Jews. Now comes the refugees, who are flooding into Europe seeking safe haven.

The lesson is that while intervention has risks, so does abdication – as The Wall Street Journal wrote this week. Retreat by America and Europe from promoting, and if necessary enforcing, a world order based on principles of basic humanity – especially in the face of such prolonged distress and dislocation caused by rogue regimes and jihadists – only brings the problem crashing onto your front doorstep, and compounded a thousand times over.

When the world’s policeman takes a vacation, all hell breaks loose, and it’s very hard to clean up the mess.

2. Obsession. All this time, while the slaughter and mayhem in Syria intensified, world leaders and international organizations like the United Nations have been very busy dealing with the “real threat to global peace and security” – that is, Israel and its “occupation” of the West Bank. They have been so seized by supposed Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza that they haven’t had time to relate seriously to Syria. Perhaps if they had been a little less obsessed with the Jews and more focused on Arab tyranny and Islamic religious fanaticism as the root of most Middle East evils, they could have applied some muscle to alleviate the suffering of Syrians (and Iraqis and Kurds and Afghans, etc.).

3. Fuel. Just how, pray tell, will feeding Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars in unfrozen assets and trade profits (rewarding it for a temporary slowdown in its rogue nuclear program) help calm the region? Or will this in all probability fuel the Iranian regime’s appetite for wreaking havoc and gaining control? The best bet is that the post-sanctions windfall will finance more weapons for Bashar Assad and Hezbollah, and thus the violence and the refugee flow will only increase.

Here again, true security and defense depends on Western will and military might; not on wild diplomatic and financial concessions to predatory forces.

In an important Mosaic Magazine essay, the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran and several colleagues this week demonstrated how Obama’s regional strategy of relying on Iran and Shiite allies to fight ISIS and protect the West – is bound to backfire. The writers focus more on the defense cost, not the humanitarian price, of Obama’s failed policies, but the solutions to both issues are the same: reassert American leadership, recruit Sunni allies (and Israel) once again, force Assad out, and roll back Iranian power.

4. Brothers. Germany is willing to absorb 800,000 Arab refugees over the coming year, and Britain a few hundred thousand over the next five years. But Syrian refugees shouldn’t look for refuge among their oil-rich Gulf brethren, because they won’t find any.

The Saudis took in a grand total of 600 asylum seekers in 2014, as did the UAE – according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Qatar and Bahrain accepted even fewer. The Saudi contribution to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs amounts to only $18 million (as compared to $1 billion from the US). Saudi contributions to the Kingdom of Jordan and the government of Lebanon for their Syrian refugee programs have been miserly, as well.

The Saudis have vast tent cities standing and ready for the Haj, which are currently empty and could temporarily take in tens of thousands of refugees. But no, why would Riyadh offer to do that?

This fits the Saudi pattern of decades: Feed the Palestinian resistance movement, but not fix the Palestinian refugee problem. Support and arm the rebels in the Syrian civil war, but take little to no responsibility for resettling the refugees from that war. Fund radical Wahabi-taught Islamic clerics and their mosques around the world (including, according to a report this week, 200 new mosques for Syrians arriving in Germany), but disclaim responsibility for the terrorist activities hatched in these mosques (including the 9/11 bombings).

5. Tikkun Olam: Some liberal groups and even Labor Party leader Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog have called upon Israel to absorb symbolic numbers of Syrian refugees, or even to accept a more substantial influx. This is, of course, an insane suggestion for multiple reasons, including security. It would also be leveraged by the Palestinians as the thin edge of the wedge towards their long-awaited “right of return” for all Palestinian refugees, many of whom are in Syria.

It’s strange how Mahmoud Abbas’ voice hasn’t been heard while Palestinians in Syria have suffered terribly during the civil war, not even when Islamic militias committed particularly bloody atrocities in Palestinian refugee camps. Nary was a Palestinian complaint lodged at the UN. Only when there is an opportunity to embarrass Israel for being “insufficiently humanitarian” in the current context, did Abbas open his foul mouth and demand that Israel take in refugees from Syria.

Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria. The fact is that almost 1,800 wounded Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals over the past three years, courtesy of the Israeli taxpayer. Israel also quietly has provided millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to Syrian groups and clans just over the Golan border, including foodstuffs and winter shelters. And Israel has assisted King Abdullah’s diplomatic efforts to gain support from foreign countries in order to handle the 700,000 or more Syrian refugees now being cared for in Jordanian camps.

Furthermore, Israel has urged Jewish groups around the world to take an active part is meeting the Syrian humanitarian crisis, through the Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees in Jordan, the UK’s World Jewish Relief Fund, the JDC’s Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, and the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees.

If Israel’s role in all this were not so sensitive, I am certain that Israel and Israelis would be doing a lot more, and publicly so. In the meantime, we can dismiss the ill-advised calls for Israel to bring Syrian refugees across the border into Israel as little more than hucksterism.

6. Schadenfreude. I can’t help noticing that the very same train tracks along which the Jews of Hungary were hauled to the ovens of Auschwitz are now transporting Arab refugees from Budapest to Bonn. Maybe even in the same cattle cars!

And Syrian refugees are being temporarily housed in concentration camp barracks still standing in Buchenwald. How chilling.

Is this just a quirk of history, or is it Divine disambiguation?

Europe rid itself of its Jews. Instead it is getting mass numbers of Moslems. Just how well do you think that is going to work out?

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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