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Details on the Israel Attack and Syria Statements

Was Hamas involved? And what happens to Syria next?

Marc Tracy
August 18, 2011
The bus after the attack.(Yehuada Ben Itah/Getty Images)
The bus after the attack.(Yehuada Ben Itah/Getty Images)

Quick updates on the two bits of news that have been breaking today: the aftermath of the attack in southern Israel, in which at least seven Israelis were killed and dozens more were injured (including soldiers and children); and the international movement, at long last, led by President Obama, to demand that President Assad step down.

At noon Israeli time, gunmen did a drive-by on an Israeli bus. Soldiers who rushed to the scene were greeted by detonated explosives. A mortar and then a pair of anti-tank missiles were then fired into Israel from Sinai; the second one hit a private car and killed six. Prime Minister Netanyahu promised to respond to the three apparently coordinated attacks, which took place near the southern port of Eilat, and Defense Minister Barak claimed that they originated from Gaza while also arguing that they “demonstrate the weakening of Egypt’s control over the Sinai peninsula and the expansion of terrorist activity there.” I am no expert, but the implication would be that, in a stark reversal of what would have happened when President Mubarak was in power, the terrorists slipped out of Gaza into Israel and the Sinai in order to perpetrate the attacks. One explanation for why they might do this is that they could be more radical even than Hamas, which may have prevented them from doing this directly from Gaza, which Hamas controls. But that is just speculation. Hamas declined responsibility for the attacks … which it celebrated: “We praise them because they were against soldiers,” said an official (actually, most of them weren’t).

In an interesting twist, this Saturday’s planned #j14 social justice protests have been cancelled in light of the attacks. Perhaps, per Yoav Fromer, young Israelis are noticing the other problems their country faces?

Meanwhile, take it away, Mr. President:

The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.

Canada and the European Union followed suit (so did prominent Rep. Eric Cantor, Republican from Virginia, who is currently in Israel). The U.S. also placed further sanctions on his regime.

I certainly don’t always agree with Tablet Magazine’s Mideast columnist Lee Smith. But he, who said Obama should say what he said today in April, has certainly been vindicated by events here (as have I, except I was far later to the party). Engagement with Assad—both in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and just generally—has clearly failed. Obama went on to note, “The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders,” as if in further confirmation that this has nothing to do with the U.S. Here are some of Lee’s Syria columns from the past, which have all argued that engagement, and the assumption—or even hope—that Assad is a “reformer” is a pipe dream.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.