Holding back on Syria reinforces Israel’s view that it fights alone

It was a perfect storm of political ineptitude, expediency and gutlessness, with just a modicum of genuine principle. And it has destroyed more of the scant lingering credibility Britain retained in Israel as a dependable, moral, Middle East player.

It involved an unimpressive Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who saw an opportunity for political gain. He seized a chance to distance himself from his predecessor Tony Blair, and no doubt harboured some genuine reservations about an over-hasty resort to force.

It starred an arrogant and earnest prime minister, David Cameron, whose gut told him that the international community simply could not allow President Bashar Assad to get away with gassing his people, but who underestimated the disinclination of the public, and their parliament, to rush headlong into unpredictable military conflict.

Rather than waiting for UN inspectors to report back from the scene of the crime, for the Security Council to inevitably fail to agree on concerted action, and for the public to internalise that there would be no response to Assad if Russia’s assent were needed, Mr Cameron tried to steamroller Parliament into rubber-stamping whatever punitive action Washington might be planning.

Feeling that it had been similarly steamrollered by Mr Blair into the Iraq war, on the basis of false information about Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction, Parliament on Thursday night simply said “no”. Or rather, it thought it said “not for now” but Mr Cameron, like a spoilt child denied approval, bizarrely then misrepresented the vote as a firm no to any UK role in intervention in Syria — handing his opponents an even bigger victory than the one they thought they had achieved.

As a consequence of Mr Cameron’s defeat, an already hesitant US administration — unsure about how to make plain to Assad that he cannot massacre his people with weapons of mass destruction, but to do so without entering another unwinnable Middle East conflict — lost its key ally in the unenviable, vital task of reining in the murderous tendencies of global despots. The next few days will see whether US legislators can give President Barack Obama the kind of bipartisan support that the House of Commons denied Mr Cameron.

In Syria, Assad must be delightedly flabbergasted, having witnessed how spectacularly wary the once mighty Britain has become of utilising force to uphold even the highest moral imperatives.

In Iran, the Commons vote will reinforce Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s confidence that he can lie his way to a nuclear weapons capability, ignoring the empty rhetoric of the craven West.

And in Israel? In an Israel whose northern border is just an hour’s drive from Assad’s toxic Damascus, an Israel being urged to take territorial risks for peace in a vicious, WMD-using, unstable Middle East — in that Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be feeling a further bitter vindication of his oft-stated conviction that Israel needs to be able to take care of itself, by itself. At the very least, he will be reflecting, perfidious Albion cannot be relied upon to rally to the rescue.

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel — www.timesofisrael.com

Last updated: 4:45pm, September 3 2013