By: TED LAPKIN, as published in THE AUSTRALIAN OCTOBER 16, 2015 12:00AM
There are no angels in the clash of contending fanaticisms that is the Syrian civil war.
On one side you have Sunni jihadis of Islamic State pursuing a grotesque Islamic neo-caliphate constructed on the skulls of their beheaded victims.
And opposite are Shia jihadis of Hezbollah and Iran fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, the despot who shows no compunction about using nerve gas in his struggle for survival.
Caught in the middle are millions of civilians who have sought sanctuary in neighbouring Arab countries and now Europe.
We’re witnessing a veritable torrent of human misery as myriad refugees flee a cataclysm that has claimed 300,000 lives by bullet, bomb and chemical weapon.
But amid the carnage of this multidimensional calamity it’s instructive to contemplate another Middle East disaster that might have been, but never was.
Imagine the military catastrophe Israel would now face had the Jewish state succumbed to international pressure and restored the Golan Heights to Syrian rule.
The Golan is a massive volcanic ridge that rears up like a giant palisade to dominate Israel’s Upper Galilee region.
Prior to the Six-Day War, Syrian gunners exploited the Golan’s commanding topography to rain artillery fire down on Jewish farming communities in the valley below.
When Damascus made the fateful error of commencing hostilities against Israel in June 1967, Jerusalem moved decisively to lance this longstanding strategic boil.
The Israeli army stormed the Golan in a brief but bloody battle, removing the Galilee from Syrian gun sights.
And since that time a broad consensus has existed within Israel that control over the Golan should never be relinquished.
Prime minister Menahem Begin gave legal force to this sentiment in 1981 by incorporating the Golan into the Israeli state.
International condemnation of Israel’s annexation initiative flew fast and furious from all the old familiar faces and all the old familiar places. US secretary of defence Caspar Weinberger declared his unhappiness.
Criticism was also heard from Canberra, with Fraser government foreign minister Tony Street warning that Israel’s actions would “exacerbate tensions in the region”.
Former Labor leader Kim Beazley went further, urging that Australian MPs visiting Israel should steer clear of the area for fear of extending “de facto recognition to the seizure and incorporation of the Golan”.
These denunciations were starkly similar in theme to a diplomatic tempest that erupted just six months earlier — in June 1981 — when Israeli F-16s bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Yet those very same critics of the 1981 Osirak raid became true believers in 1991 as they privately gave thanks during the first Gulf war that Israel had neutered Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions.
And one wonders whether Beazley might have amended his views now that the headsmen of Islamic State have decapitated their way to within a few kilometres of Israel’s border on the Golan. The Middle East as we know it is disintegrating before our eyes as borders are redrawn in a welter of fire and blood.
The frontier between Iraq and Syria has been erased, with large swathes of both nations subsumed at gunpoint within the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate.
The religious war raging between Shia and Sunni Islam has spilled over into Lebanon and Yemen, while secular autocrats wage a desperate fight against home-grown jihadi insurgencies.
No one can predict what the lay of the Middle East land will be once this internecine inferno ultimately burns itself out.
And this existential uncertainty is the prism through which observers should view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s much maligned statement about Palestinian statehood.
The wisdom of what Netanyahu actually said — that establishing a Palestinian state would create “a base for attacks by radical Islam against Israel” — has been borne out by events.
This is precisely what occurred in the wake of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
Yet the same old pundits and diplomats persist in dispensing the same old bromides, utterly unfazed by the ruinous implications of their past policy recommendations.
Retired ambassador Peter Rodgers exemplifies these purblind purveyors of sophistry with the sour mash of cherry-picked factoids and false allegations that appeared under his name on this page last Friday.
In his op-ed Rodgers dredges up uncorroborated third-hand assertions from anonymous sources to accuse Israel of callously refusing to prosecute the perpetrators of a despicable firebombing that killed a Palestinian family.
Never mind that Israeli authorities have imprisoned three suspected Jewish terrorists under administrative detention since that terrible crime.
Rodgers conveniently ignores the essential distinction between what intelligence agencies think they know and what’s provable in any court of law operating on principles of democracy.
Israel is blessed with a fiercely independent judiciary that is a stickler for the presumption of innocence and fair rules of evidence.
Or does Rodgers prefer a rush-to-judgment approach that jettisons such basic legal safeguards?
An immutable theme of classical Greek drama dictates that hubris is followed by Nemesis — the mythological goddess of retributive justice tasked with cutting the arrogant down to size.
But the political elites in distant Washington, Brussels and Canberra are well-insulated from any real-world consequences of the policies they espouse.
As the bloody waves of chaos lap against Israel’s borders, Prime Minister Netanyahu has every right to rebuff such hectoring and lecturing from afar.
After all, when the hollow hubris of theoreticians is laid bare by cruel Middle East reality, it’s the Israeli people who will end up at the pointy end of Nemesis.
Ted Lapkin is director of public affairs at the Zionist Federation of Australia.