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Dear Friend of Israel,

The carnage in Syria continues. Late last month, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad slaughtered more than 100 people, including women and children, in the city of Houla. It was the latest violence in a conflict that has, by some accounts, left more than 10,000 Syrians dead since the uprising against Assad’s regime began in March 2011.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been outspoken in his condemnation of Assad’s murderous rule, expressed his “revulsion over the ongoing massacre being perpetrated by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad against innocent civilians.” He also made clear the connection between Syria and other forces that are key perpetrators and promoters of terrorism: “Iran and Hezbollah are an inseparable part of the Syrian atrocities and the world needs to act against them.”

The U.S. reacted strongly to the Houla massacre as well, with the White House calling it “a vile testament to an illegitimate regime that responds to peaceful political protest with unspeakable and inhuman brutality.” Meanwhile, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, speaking in uncharacteristically undiplomatic language, called the attack “absolutely indefensible, vile, despicable,” adding that the slaughter was “aided and abetted by the Iranians.” The U.S. also joined nearly a dozen countries, including Australia, in expelling Syrian diplomats.

Syrian leadership presents a serious threat not just to its own people, but to stability in the entire Middle East. As the violence escalates, the world is forced to contemplate: What would action against Syria look like? In this, as in every case, the costs of military action need to be carefully weighed. An intervention in Syria could quickly spiral into a regional war that would undoubtedly involve Iran. It is a grave move that cannot be taken lightly.

War is indeed a terrible thing, and Israelis know this as well as anyone. Nearly every Israeli serves a compulsory term in the military, and almost everyone in the country knows someone who has died in battle, or whose life has been in some other way touched by war. This isn’t because Israelis are a warlike people. It’s because the state of Israel has been forced to fight for its existence from its very inception.

But there is, in the words of the Bible, “a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). And there is a time when even those who love and earnestly seek peace must take up the weapons of war to help those who are oppressed and protect the innocent against violence. Whether or not the horrific situation in Syria is such an occasion is a question that will be answered by world leaders. While they consider this, we people of faith, both Christians and Jews, offer prayers that God will grant them wisdom. And we pray for the safety of the people of Syria, remembering the promise of Psalm 103 that “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.”

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Chairman, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Australia