As President Obama and congressional leaders mull over a possible strike on Syria, one issue that has fallen out of media spotlight is the ongoing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. Despite the tumult with their northern neighbors, these talks have continued unabated and are still viewed with cautious optimism.
While making their decision, policy-makers must realize that an unintended casualty of a strike on Syria could be these notoriously fragile negotiations. It is impossible to predict the many outcomes of a strike on Syria, but it is clear that it would create an atmosphere of volatility that is anathema to a major territorial agreement. Any U.S. strike would give Hezbollah and Hamas a ready pretense to provoke the U.S. ally, Israel. In addition, the strike could broaden the isolated Syrian conflict into a larger one in the region.
With its larger security in question, Israel would justifiably avoid any large territorial agreement with Palestinians that would alter its security position in a time of danger.
The peace talks currently taking place in Jerusalem, between Palestinian and Israeli representatives were at first met with familiar pessimism, but have quietly gained an aura of cautious optimism. Unlike previous attempts for a settlement, like Oslo and Camp David, expectations were set very low. The subsequent lack of media scrutiny has been a boon to their quiet progress currently seen. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have refrained from using press conferences that play to their own bases to the detriment of negotiations. Though there fundamental differences continue to dog the conference, there are genuine reasons for optimism.
With a U.S. airstrike, the delicate equilibrium that is required for these peace talks would be disrupted. Hezbollah, the militant Shia group from southern Lebanon, has openly stated that it is prepared to strike against Israel in defense of Syria. It is unlikely that it would strike directly against Israel, but its increased involvement in the Syrian conflict would further destabilize the region and put Israel on high alert.
Hamas sits in a less predictable position because it is divided over its support for the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah coalition. However, the group, which was excluded from the negotiation, is looking for every excuse to delegitimize the current talks. Within some factions of Hamas, a U.S. airstrike could be a rallying cry against the US ally, Israel. Protests and possibly rocket attacks on Israel from pro-Syria factions in Gaza could possibly result from this.
Stoking these two radical groups will be Iran, which is eager to use both Hezbollah and Hamas to defend its staunch ally, Syria. From the Iranian strategic perspective, war by proxy will also be an effective means to undermine its two archrivals: the U.S. and Israel. Despite the fact that newly elected president Rouhani condemned Assad’s use of chemical weapons, it is unlikely that he will be overcome hardline interests, which have historically prevailed.
Though the exact response of Hezbollah and Hamas are difficult to predict and making any exact prediction is foolhardy, it is clear that the U.S. airstrike against Syria would fan the flame of regional tensions and greatly increase the possibility of the Syrian conflict spilling into the larger region. In such a dangerous environment, it is unlikely that Israel would commit to any significant settlement.
While the prudence of a strike on Syria is decided in Congress, it is necessary to keep this fact in mind. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a long history of disruption by external political actors. A strike on Syria by the U.S. could be another one of these instances.