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On Israel’s border with Syria, we were witnesses to a fraught moment in history

MP Andrew Percy writes for the JC from Israel's border with Syria

    The CFI delegation on the Syrian border
    The CFI delegation on the Syrian border

    The age-old adage that there is never a dull moment to visit Israel more than lived up to its reputation this week, as I led Conservative Friends of Israel’s latest parliamentary delegation to the Jewish State.

    Going into the trip we had expected discussions to be dominated by recent unrest along Israel’s Gaza border. For a second weekend in a row, Hamas had coordinated mass demonstrations at the security barrier to call for a “return to Palestine”. 

    Any sensible and honest person knows what this phrase is code for - the destruction of Israel. Attempts to breach the border fence and violent acts by a number of the protestors provide further evidence of Hamas’s intention to use and abuse its civilian population to further its genocidal aims.

    The level of misunderstanding outside Israel over these ongoing protests is deeply worrying. 

    Early Monday morning, however, I was awoken by a flurry of phone notifications that an airbase in Syria had been hit by airstrikes following another appalling gas attack on Syrian civilians by Assad. 

    For all the bluster and hyperbole from varying corners of the international community against Assad’s latest atrocity, it is Israel that is believed to have been responsible.

    The military airbase in question is not just home to Syrian regime and Russian aircraft, but is also a command centre for the pernicious Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

    By all accounts it has been a staging post for all manner of horrors committed within Syria, and the Iranian drone that recently breached Israeli airspace also originated from the base.

    Where is the international outcry over Iran’s poisonous involvement in this tragic conflict?

    The failure of the international community to previously enforce a red line on the use of chemical weapons set in motion a series of events that have led us to this fraught moment in history.

    This failure of leadership in recent years, and the failure to build an international consensus, has provided Assad with a green light to continue his vile wanton murder. This in turn is fuelling Islamist radicalism across the world, including on our own shores. 

    This weakness of the West has enabled President Putin to fill the vacuum and re-establish a Russian presence in the Middle East. In establishing a naval base on the warm waters of the Mediterranean, Russia has achieved a centuries old ambition which poses enormous strategic challenge to Western liberal democracies.

    A strong case can be made that had the West enforced the red line sooner, President Putin may not have felt emboldened enough to invade the Crimea, start provocative incursions into the airspace of Western countries, and even unleash a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Britain a few weeks ago.

    Standing on the Syrian border little more than 24 hours after the airstrike, we were reminded of Israel’s unenviable strategic challenges. Towns and villages controlled by everyone from the Assad regime, rebel militias, groups linked to Al Qaeda, Daesh, and even Iran - a microcosm of the whole Syrian war.

    Syria is no longer being torn apart by a “civil war”. The country formerly known as Syria is now being torn apart by a multinational war featuring Russia, Iran, and its terrorist proxies, each with competing strategic interests of their own.

    As we enter these uncertain times I couldn’t help but reflect that friends and allies are invaluable.

    In the UK, Israel has a steadfast friend, and it is important that we stand behind their action to defend their borders, both north and south, and also support the action they are prepared to take against the Assad regime.

    In the absence of proper leadership in the West, it once again falls to Israel to take on not just terrorists, but the state actors supporting them.


    Andrew Percy is Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole