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Monday, October 20, 2014

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Threats loom in Iran and Syria: columnist

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Jonathan Spyer speaks about Middle East issues at Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax. [Joel Jacobson photo]

HALIFAX — Jonathan Spyer confirmed what others before him have been saying: if the United States and the West don’t show strength against Iran’s development of nuclear arms, then Israel will have to act alone to stop the threat.

Speaking to an audience at Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax on March 14, the senior fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Centre, Herzliya, Israel, and Jerusalem Post columnist, said, “If the U.S. doesn’t rise to the occasion, and it appears it won’t, as [President Barack] Obama wants to do more with his domestic policy than his foreign policy, Israel might have to accept a nuclear Iran or act unilaterally.

“Talk can only go so far. Without a credible threat from the West, Israel has to step up or Iran will move forward.”

Spyer was concluding a week-long speaking tour that covered Toronto, Hamilton, Fredericton, and Halifax. The event was sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs with the Maritime portion assisted by Atlantic Jewish Council.

While in Halifax for one busy day, Spyer also met with media and addressed students of Dalhousie University’s political science and Centre For Foreign Policy Studies programs, as well as the Dalhousie Law School.

At Beth Israel, Spyer noted that the Arab Spring, the tumultuous overthrow of despotic regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Egypt, has presented advantages to Israel.

“The Sunni-Shia ongoing conflict in Iran and the civil war in Syria have kept these nations busy internally,” he said.

“And while Iran has the wealth to finance its own military and other programs, countries where Sunni Islamists have taken control are broke financially. The Sunnis are weak and disorganized, with massive problems of illiteracy and feminist uprisings so have internal struggles. That’s a benefit to Israel.”

He stressed Israel can defend itself against its enemies because “we have a wonderful economy and a strong military that is capable of overcoming the threat of the Sunni Islamists.”

He gave an overview of the Syrian civil war to the Dalhousie political science and foreign policy students.”

He said Syrian President Bashar Assad told the Wall Street Journal in early 2011 that Syria wouldn’t be affected by the Arab Spring because he wasn’t elected and didn’t represent the people.

After he failed to crush demonstrations that started in March 2011 and then spread, Assad offered some concessions that didn’t work. A month later, he was trying to forcefully allay confrontations, but they escalated into armed revolt that continues two years later.

The fighting has led to a military stalemate, but with the loss of almost 100,000 lives and 1.2 million Syrians fleeing to other Middle East countries.

“The regime of Assad has lasted longer than anyone thought it would,” Spyer said. “He has suffered no losses of core people around him, and his security forces have remained in place even though many lesser officials and rank-and-file people have left him. Meanwhile, the rebels have been dogged by an inability to unify into a single structure, without a defined leader.”

Spyer said he’s been in northern Syria several times during the conflict and has seen the suffering of the Syrian people.

“Conditions are dreadful. Even if the [Assad] regime falls, don’t assume things will go back to normal. The various Sunni elements will struggle to decide who will be the new boss. It will lead to new conflicts.”

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