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When “Never Again” Has No Meaning

The two words “never again” have a powerful meaning. They speak to a commitment to prevent another Holocaust. Whether it is meant specifically to prevent another wholesale slaughter of Jews, or generally any ethnic group, the two words speak to a commitment.

But however powerful that commitment is, history has shown us that, without the will to enforce that commitment, they are just words. Two news items this week show the degree to which the commitment of “never again” has been erased from the phrase.

The ongoing assault on the neighborhood of Eastern Ghouta, just outside of Damascus, despite a United Nations declared ceasefire shows how powerless the world is if it chooses not to confront a determined enemy.

An open letter published earlier this week, signed by over 200 activists and academics, called on the world to act to prevent further destruction in Syria. The letter described the dynamic that has repeating itself for much of the past three years:

Today, as Idlib and Afrin burn, the inevitable is unfolding in Ghouta, the huge open-air concentration camp about to enter its fifth year under siege. What happens next is predictable because the same formula has been applied repeatedly over the past seven years. After holding a civilian population hostage, blocking food, medicine, and aid of any kind, the regime bombs the area relentlessly, in particular its medical facilities, until it capitulates. Those who survive are then forced from their homes that are then expropriated for demographic engineering with the aim of creating politically homogeneous geographies.

The letter faults the United Nations Security Council for failing to prevent “what UN war crimes investigators have themselves labeled the ‘crime of extermination.’”

The world  has become a “passive enabler” of the destruction wreaked by the Assad regime “aided by local and foreign militias, by Iranian strategic and financial aid, by Russian airpower and mercenaries.”

While the letter offers no specific recommendation for ending the slaughter in Syria, it stands as a testament to the fact “never again” is nothing without a will to act.

A similar testament to the world’s inaction was published the same day in Tablet magazine. In it, Kassem Eid, a Syrian activist who  survived Bashar al-Assad’s first major chemical weapon attack on Eastern Ghouta in August 2013 blasted the world for its apathy towards the suffering of the Syrian people. What’s notable about Eid’s testimony is that its target is Samantha Power, who served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations during Barack Obama’s second terms as president.

Power had first to prominence when she wrote about how American politicians evaded their responsibilities to act to prevent genocides in the 1990s in Iraq, Bosnia, and Rwanda. When she was appointed to her position by President Barack Obama, some thought that her critique of previous administrations would push her to convince Obama to prevent any recurrence of such destruction.

Despite initially being impressed by Power, Eid later concluded that she and deputy  national security  adviser Ben Rhodes “created an alternate universe to hide the genocide in Syria.”

But ignoring the carnage in Syria is only one manifestation of the current emptiness of the phrase “never again.”

This week Iran announced that it will be hosting an “Hourglass festival” in April in anticipation of Israel’s anticipated destruction in 25 years. While there was plenty of commentary about it from pro-Israel groups, there appears to be virtually no response from the world at large.

If such a conference were a one-time event, silence might be appropriate, as maybe it’s just hubris. But this is not a one-time aberration, it is part of a pattern of Iran’s leadership calling for Israel’s destruction. And it isn’t just words, as the infiltration of Israeli airspace by Iranian drone three weeks ago showed, Iran is following up its words with actions.

These actions include the creation of Shiite militias to be deployed across the Middle East, the establishment of bases inside Shria, and the arming of the terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah on Israel’s southern and northern borders.

Iran is backing up its threats against Israel’s existence with concrete actions to make those threats credible.

Iran isn’t just talking about destroying the world’s one Jewish state, it is working towards that goal, but rather than saying “never again,” the world is saying, “who cares?”

Whether we are discussing the carnage in Syria or Iran’s threats against Israel, both have worsened over the past two and a half years, as the world concluded and began implementing a nuclear deal with Iran, that allowed Iran to keep much of its nuclear infrastructure in place and kept on a glide path to an industrial strength uranium enrichment program that could allow it to produce a nuclear weapon at will by  the time the deal has concluded. The deal also freed up billions of dollars that Iran has invested in its terror proxies and its conventional and non-conventional military programs.

At the same time that the world was concluding the nuclear deal with Iran in July 2015, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was in Moscow enlisting Russia’s help in turning Syria’s civil war around. Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has been decisive in turning the war in favor of Assad. Even though Soleimani is under an international travel ban, not action was taken against him, Iran or Russia for his travels. Officials in the Obama administration have acknowledged that the United States didn’t push back against Iran’s involvement in Syria in order not to upset the nuclear deal. The nuclear deal thus became Iran’s leverage to pursue its destabilizing policies across the Middle East.

With the ongoing destruction in Syria and Iran’s threat against Israel increasing, the world shouldn’t be asking how to preserve the nuclear deal. The nuclear deal has encouraged Iran’s aggression. Concern for the nuclear deal is misplaced. Iran, the UN has found, is exporting weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This is not just a violation of an arms embargo of the Houthis, but a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which implements the nuclear deal. According to resolution 2231, Iran is still prohibited from exporting all manners of weapons, including ballistic missiles.

Allowing Iran to continue violating its international agreements with impunity, as we have seen in the nuclear deal, will only encourage more unlawful behavior. As long as it continues to threaten Israel’s existence, Iran must not be allowed to continue developing ballistic missiles that can reach Israel. As long as Iran is supporting the destruction of Syria, it should isolated from the international banking system. And as long as Iran refuses to accept international norms for behavior its leaders should be treated as pariahs, not as honored guests international fora.

If the words “never again” are to have any meaning, Iran’s aggression will have to be countered. At first this must be done with diplomatic isolation and economic measures. If such responses are not sufficient to deter Iran, then military efforts may be necessary. But without a strong stand against Iran and its designs in the Middle East, “never again” won’t mean anything.

[Photo: Washington Post /  YouTube ]