Remember the horrors of Ghouta and Afrin

Syria today is one mass killing field atop another, and the air over it is being used by superpowers and those that aspire to be superpowers to play out their hegemonic dreams.

Destruction in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Credit: Facebook via Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Destruction in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Credit: Facebook via Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

U.N. Chief António Guterres described the Ghouta region of Syria as “hell on earth” on Monday. Approximately 400,000 people have been trapped inside this embattled city outside of the Syrian capital of Damascus, which has been pulverized by the Iranian and Russian backed forces of Bashir Assad. In the last week alone, as many as 800 people in Ghouta have been massacred by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian axis.

Destruction in eastern Ghouta, Syria. Credit: Facebook via Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The faces of the children inside this besieged enclave tell a harrowing story, their eyes gaunt from fear, and their bodies terribly thin from malnourishment. Most of the people are hiding in basements of the remains of half-shelled-out buildings. Humanitarian organizations have had a difficult time delivering food and medicine because their convoys are prevented from coming through.

It has been seven years since the start of the harshest of conflicts in the war-ravaged Middle East. Ceasefires have been called for in the United Nations—and then promptly ignored.

It all started innocently enough when a young man, buoyed by hopes of the “Arab Spring” in 2010, scribbled a message on a school wall against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. From there, the rapid descent into hell began, which spread throughout Syria, with a current estimate of 500,000 Syrians dead and millions displaced, representing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

But Ghouta, the heart of the anti-Assad rebellion, has been hit the hardest. It was the site of the infamous chemical attack that killed more than 1,000 civilians in August 2013 and left many more with horrific injuries, including the loss of limbs.

It was in this city where the resolve of President Barack Obama and the United States was tested. It was within this very city that Assad used chemical weapons on Aug. 21, 2013, approximately one year and one day after Obama had said that if he saw chemical weapons being moved around or used, he would have to draw a “red line.”

And, thanks to that lack of will, America failed the test miserably.

When America does not display its strength, all of the moral cockroaches come crawling out of the woodwork, like the Iranian mullahs, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

After consistent years of brutal fighting, the war in Syria is not over, although the civil war might be extinguishing itself, with Assad left in power thanks to the help of Russia. However, this is not a beginning of the end. It might be the end of the beginning

We might well be on the precipice of another, greater war, where superpowers are involved with competing interests that might intersect. Turkey, which would like to believe it is a superpower, has unleashed a particular round of fury against the Kurdish enclave in northwestern city of Afrin, Syria.

Muslim Brotherhood supporter Erdogan, who despises the Kurds, has used the chaos in Syria as an excuse to pummel this isolated region. The Kurdish enclave valiantly fought for its independent survival for at least a month, but these Kurds were badly pounded, and had been isolated and cut off from any aid from the United States. In desperation, they sought the help of Damascus in order to survive.

This is Syria today. It is one mass killing field atop another, and the air over it is being used by superpowers and those that aspire to be superpowers to play out their hegemonic dreams (or in Putin’s case, to flex its muscles). At the same time, Lebanon is overrun with Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and has become a huge base for the manufacturing of missiles.

On Feb. 10, the Iranian-Syrian-Russian axis sent a drone missile to Israeli airspace to test Israel’s resolve. And, thank G-d, Israel with its strong military passed the test masterfully. The response was immediate. It was direct. And it was harsh.

That is the only way to survive in the Middle East.

And that is why it is so important that Israel always maintain its strategic depth and control of the high ground on the Golan Heights.

In 1994, during the heady days of Oslo, when everyone had stars in their eyes about making peace with terrorists, dictators and despots,  I was part of a small band of people who worked very hard to inform the U.S. Congress of a plan on the table to place American troops on the Golan Heights. This was conceived as a way to sweeten the bitter pill for American Jewry and the Israeli public for a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This withdrawal was to be in exchange for a “peace treaty” with then President Hafez al-Assad of Syria.

My friends and I went against the grain and were subject to some stinging criticisms.  We knew that Assad was not to be trusted, but we were dubbed as “enemies of peace.”

Most of those who condemned me and my friends 24 years ago would not want to remember the position they took then.

And the next time Israel is coaxed to simply trade “land for peace” with current or potential terrorists, despots and dictators, I ask you to please remember the horrors of Ghouta and of Afrin.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of EMET, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington, D.C.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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