Volatile Syria: There are more reasons for the U.S. to stay out

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Two significant developments Sunday in the Syrian civil war have made President Barack Obama's position that the United States not become further involved seem wise.

The first was the Israelis carried out air attacks on Syrian government military installations that, in effect, has them weighing in on the side of the rebels, against the regime of President Bashar Assad. The second was the lead investigator of the United Nations commission of inquiry on Syria saing there is evidence that the rebels, to whom the Obama administration was considering providing military aid, had used chemical weapons. The weapon cited was the nerve agent, sarin gas. The investigator added that there was not enough evidence to conclude that the Syrian government had not used chemical weapons.

Israel's attacks were intended to interdict a flow of arms, including missiles, allegedly of Iranian origin, from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from where they could be used against Israel. Israel most recently fought Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. In principle, Israel was not allying itself with the Syrian rebels through the attacks. Some of the rebel groups are, in fact, virulently anti-Israel in their Islamic orientation. However, since the air strikes were carried out against Syrian government military installations, killing Syrian forces, in effect they served to the advantage of the rebel forces fighting the Assad government.

The tentative U.N. determination that Syrian rebels have used chemical weapons -- even if the government did, too -- militates strongly against the United States associating itself further with the rebels' attempt at regime change. Mr. Obama's resistance to pressure from Republican warhawks such as Sen. John McCain, R, Ariz., for deeper U.S. military intervention in support of the rebels thus seems entirely correct.

The bad part is that the war, which has already claimed about 70,000 lives and created more than a million refugees over the past two years, continues, so far inconclusively. The Israeli attacks increase the possibility that the Syrian war will become more regional in scope, with the concomitant growing risk of the United States being drawn in.

U.S. efforts need to be directed strongly to moving the combatants to the negotiating table as soon as possible before matters get worse. The Israeli air attacks and the rebels using sarin gas are clear messages to all interested parties, including Iran, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia, that enough is now more than enough.



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