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September 15, 2013- The Agreement On Syrian Chemical Weapons

It’s the day after Yom Kippur and the day after the United States and Russia announced they reached an agreement regarding the Syrian Chemical Weapons. In Israel, most of the news has been devoted to trying to understand the meaning of this agreement. As one would expect, the opinions have been divided. 

Interestingly, many think that this is a good agreement. Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli Military Intelligence said tonight that the agreement was better than he could have possibly imagined. Yadlin stated he never thought there could be an agreement that would not be full of holes. Furthermore, at least on paper, he felt this was a very strong agreement. He added, since Assad has to disclose the whereabouts of his entire chemical weapons stocks by next week, we would see soon enough if he lying. Yadlin gave every indication that Israel is well aware of the location of all of Assad's weapons.  Certainly identifying those weapon storehouses would have been one of the top priorities of Israeli intelligence in the past few years.

In Yadlin's view the agreement is a win for all four sides– For Russia, as this agreement strengthens its influence; for Assad this agreement confers a certain level of international legitimacy; for President Obama, who has managed to turn lemons into lemonade– without suffering a defeat in the Congress; and lastly, for Israel, for whom if this agreement goes through, will see one of its major strategic threats disappear. According to Yadlin, If this agreement succeeds,we can now save the 1 billion shekels we would have needed for new gas masks. Of course, there are many "IF"s involved here– and there are few people who think that the timetable set out in this agreement is doable. However, despite all of the "IF"s there is a sense that the agreement is certainly worth trying. Of course, the losers in the agreement are the Syrian people– and maybe the moral standing of the world. It looks like Assad will gain from his use of chemical weapons – while he should be paying for his actions at the gallows, as a war criminal. Instead, his regime is being strengthened. 

The other major question here is– what effect the Syrian agreement will have on Iran?Again, here the pundits are mixed. On one hand, as a result of these recent pressure and maneuvering there are those who see the Iranians having a hard time taking U.S. threats seriously. Certainly, in their public statements, the U.S. has confirmed they came to this agreement since they were afraid of the Iranians/Syrian response. On the other hand, there are those who believe that it’s the outcome that counts most– and that threats of force, together with diplomacy might work best. That is exactly what President Obama said on this morning talks shows... That he has made clear to the Iranians that eliminating nuclear weapons is more important to him than chemical weapons, and that he believed the combination of the a credible military threat against the Iranians– together with vigorous diplomacy could result in an agreement.  Only time will tell.

On personal note... Yesterday I attend a Yom Kippur service sponsored and run by a new congregation (at least new for me). They call themselves, Beit Tfillah Yisraeli. This is the same community that holds very successful Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Tel Aviv port in the summer months. 

These services were held one block away from my house– at the Z.O.A. House. This was a very appropriate place for me to say Yizkor for my parents, who met in the Z.O.A.  However, more importantly, this service was the first service I attended in 40 years that I really enjoyed. This was a Yom Kippur service reimagined for Israel of 2013Beit Tfillah Yisraeli showed me what you can do if you maintain a certain level of tradition, while freeing oneself from being solely traditional.

Rav Kook long ago said: "Make what is sacred new, and what is new sacred".

Kol Hakavod to Beit Tefillah Yisraeli for working to make that so.


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