Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, when, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, as the entire nation of Israel was in prayer and fasting, the combined armies or Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack against them. Israel scrambled to fend them off, and did so successfully, prevented from returning the favor to Damascus and Cairo only through Soviet intervention.
The 1973 Yom Kippur war was the third Arab military attempt to exterminate Israel, after wars in 1948 and 1967. Since 1973, Israel’s free democratic society, highly educated populace and determination in the face of decades of terrorism have produced a powerful country, one capable of defeating the combined Arab armies again.
But this very asymmetry between Israeli and Syrian militaries forced a Syrian change in strategy after 1973: instead of daring to challenge Israel on the open battlefield, it began arming terrorist groups to bleed Israel in attacks against its civilians. This was the only way it could attack Israel. Since then it has funded, provided offices and training camps, assisted in materiel procurement and logistical support for these terrorist groups, of which there are nearly a dozen, but only three well-known: Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. For the last 30 years, Syria has been waging proxy war against Israel and it civilians.
Now, after the resignation of the Palestinian prime minister and the apparent end of the road map, it is clear that Palestinian leadership is not yet ready to arrest its terrorists. As a result, on Friday a Palestinian female suicide bomber entered a restaurant owned by an Arab-Israeli family in Haifa, the city that symbolizes Arab-Jewish coexistence, and ripped it apart with a fireball of rusty nails and razor-blades, mass-murdering at least 18 and permanently disfiguring scores more. “A minute before I saw them smiling, laughing, and a second later I saw them lying on the ground in puddles of blood, in pieces,” one witness said. This was the 104th suicide bombing against Israel since September 2000.
Now, what we have is an unambiguous and principled move by Israel to raise the stakes. No longer will dictatorships like Syria and Iran be able to openly support terrorist groups bent of destroying Israeli life with impunity. The Israeli strike was retaliatory – against those directly responsible for yesterday’s suicide bombings – but it is also an escalation, and a serving of notice that Syria’s behavior is indeed risky business.
Right now, Syria and Iran’s business is to support terrorist groups, then claim innocence when they attack. This is the Arafat formula: after every suicide bombing, he condemns it, though without lifting a finger against the known perpetrators. Arafat, Syria and Iran are responsible for terrorism, but have contrived an apparent but false distance that frees them from censure.
Anyone who listened to the Syrian U.N. ambassador’s speech on Sunday heard the word “aggression” repeated over and over. But the Israeli strike was the opposite of aggression; it was self-defense, absolutely legal under Article 51 of the United Nations charter.
It is Syria, not Israel, which is in violation of the United Nations charter. An interesting but oft-ignored fact is that every single resolution of the Security Council that pertains to the Arab-Israeli conflict – 181, 242, 338, among them – was adopted under Chapter Six, which concerns the peaceful resolution of conflict, and essentially non-binding recommendations. Chapter Seven is reserved for the most egregious violations of peace and acts of aggression – invoked only a handful on times in the U.N.’s history. They require enforcement by the U.N., by force if necessary.
The anti-terrorism Resolution 1373, passed after September 11th, was adopted under Chapter Seven, and states that governments must, “Refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts,” as well as “Deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts or provide safe havens.” Syria is, and has been for years, in clear violation of this Chapter Seven U.N. Security Council resolution.
But Resolution 1373, as well as countless others, and the very logic of war and peace itself, permit Israel to act in self-defense, by attacking the base where terrorists train and organize murderous assaults on Israeli civilians. Israel was right – legally and morally – to strike the Islamic Jihad base. It should be made clear to Syria, Iran and other tyrannical state sponsors of terrorism that Israel will fight back.
Joey Tartakovsky is a senior global studies and slavic studies major.