How international community overlooks US & Israel’s war crimes in Syria

Meanwhile, ICC would initiate an investigation against Israel for its alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, at the beginning of this month announced that the ICC would initiate an investigation against Israel for alleged war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories since June 13, 2014, a decision that was welcomed by Palestine but not Israel. 

In a statement, Bensouda had said the probe will be conducted “independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor.”

Other areas that the investigation would also look into are alleged crimes by Palestinian militants. Bensouda had said her probe would look into the actions of Hamas, which fired rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the 2014 war.

Reacting to this, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC’s decision was “the essence of anti-Semitism and the essence of hypocrisy.”

Similarly, Shlomi Kofman, Consul General of Israel to San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest in The Jewish News of Northern California called the decision “morally bankrupt and legally flawed”. 

He said the decision is nothing but a political one and that the ICC wholly lacks jurisdiction over the so-called “situation in Palestine”.

He further said, “The involvement of the ICC in this bilateral conflict will only have a detrimental effect on the capacity for genuine dialogue and negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Given that the decision has drawn flak from the Israeli side, some conflict experts believe that in the case of Israel, their actions and reactions highlight insecurity. “A sense of insecurity is very palpable in whatever Israel does. The kind of past that they have had and whatever they have undergone in terms of persecution and struggle as an ethnicity itself — all of these have played an important role in Israeli sense of insecurity,” said Dr Kaushikee, Honorary Director at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia in India. 

Meanwhile, the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, and others have “expressed reservations” over this decision.

As far as the US is concerned, the powerful Israeli lobby is very much active in the country and has too much influence over American policy in the Middle East. No leader can be elected without American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) support and hence has to pledge complete allegiance to Israel. As Saudi-US political analyst Tanya Cariina Hsu says: “Once in office, every member of Congress is expected to act, vote and defend the state of Israel on almost every issue, or face the consequences.” 

Israel and the US have been strategic allies and partners for decades and the international community overlooks US’s and Israel’s war crimes in Syria, as the US is a major contributor to many world agencies. For instance, if the US pulls out of the UN and the donations eventually stop, then the UN automatically falters, international relations experts said.  

If the US takes the agenda of democracy against dictatorship in Syria, it does not apply the same yardstick to all countries. “At different points, the Americans take their national interests into account, and sometimes their support may be direct and sometimes indirect. It all boils down to critical interests depending on the time and context in terms of its general role of Uncle Sam that it wants to keep playing, though the world no longer remains unipolar. But they would still want to give this sense that they are still the leaders of the world,” said Dr. Kaushikee. 

Why is the US so anxious to overthrow the Syrian government?

The US has always weighed its options, and its approach towards Syria has always been erratic. Even though the US does not want the IS to have its footing anywhere in the world, there have been contradictions throughout. Going back, the Trump administration had claimed to be fully committed to defeating the IS; however, his administration pledged to pull out of Syria, with former President Donald Trump criticizing his predecessors for taking military action in the first place. 

On the other hand, Russia has been directly involved in supporting the Syrian government and the former sees Syria as the only partner in the Middle East. Meanwhile, whatever the US does, it has to take into account its main partner in the Middle East, which is Israel. “Syria being just the next-door neighbor to Israel and a supporter of Hezbollah, it might be a cause of concern for Israel,” added Dr. Kaushikee.  

Vacuum in power: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has simply continued his father’s legacy of hardline policy towards the historical rival Israel. 

Post-Israeli occupation of Golan Heights since the 1967 war, Assad said until occupied land is returned in full, there will be no peace, and subsequently supported militant groups that oppose the Jewish state.

What angered Washington was Assad’s opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the Iraqi insurgent groups’ support of Syrian authorities. The strain in relations between the two goes back to 2005 during the bomb attack in Beirut that killed Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Other than this, a joint UN-OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) mission had blamed the Assad-led government for killing 80 people in the rebel-held northern town of Khan Sheikhoun in 2017 through a chemical attack. 

Even though the US, UK, and France concluded that the 2013 Sarin attack that killed hundreds of people on the outskirts of Damascus could only have been carried out by government forces, Assad blamed rebel fighters for carrying out the attack. UN human rights investigators accused the Syrian government of committing war crimes which reportedly left hundreds of civilians dead and thousands displaced. Assad denied the charges blaming the opposition and their allies for “staging” the attacks. 

Sectarianism is a major problem in the Middle East. Syria has a majority population of Sunni Arabs and Assad does not belong to that ethnicity, he is an Alawite, which comprises only 10% of the population. While his father Hafez al-Assad tried to accommodate the Sunni Arabs in his administration, with struggles and revolution, Bashar al-Assad zeroed in on his family and ethnicity. In a way, he has alienated the rest of the population, especially the Sunni Arabs,” said Dr. Kaushikee, adding that it is quite obvious that the majority of the population is unhappy with him. 

He has also alienated the rural class. He is the one who wanted to liberalize the economy and only the urban class is benefiting from it. 

Even though history says Assad should ideally not remain in power, removing him would give rise to a power vacuum becoming an ideal foothold for extremist and paramilitary forces, just like we saw in the case of Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. Syria is fractured — a part of its territory is lost to the IS, part of it is with the government and the rest is in the hands of the rebels. The resolution will not come easily and the fight won’t end just like that; the removal of one combatant will only amplify tensions between pro and anti-militant forces and we can only imagine what would happen to Assad’s loyalist forces or where they will go with the removal of their leader. For Assad’s removal to be successful, the return of civilian Syrian leadership is a must instead of focusing on immediate containment of violence. In areas that are not under the influence of Assad, local councils can aim to create new democratic institutions to legitimize the claim to the power of a civilian government.

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