What is the tipping point for serious action on Syria? Was it reached when President Obama called on Bashar al-Assad “to step aside” because he is standing in the way of Syrians to determine their future?
For now, the impact of today’s White House statement is not yet completely clear. Assad’s guns and tanks, as well as the navy ships that shelled Latakia in recent days, have not been silenced. Yet, after more than five months of a steadily escalating violent crackdown across Syria, Obama’s statement was the most explicit wording yet from Washington on what President Assad should do.
And, the exact same message also came from the European Union.
So, both Americans and Europeans apparently are united in their approach towards Syria. Their economic sanctions are expanding to target the country’s all important oil and gas industry.
But if Assad has any capacity at all to listen, real global outrage is needed. And, that brings the matter back to the horseshoe table of the U.N. Security Council, which will soon meet for the third time in three weeks to discuss Syria.
Originally scheduled for Thursday, August 18 as a closed-door briefing by U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay, a precursor to next Monday’s meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, this is another opportunity for the Security Council to act boldly and firmly. India’s ambassador to the U.N., who currently holds the rotating presidency of Security Council, said that “members will take the appropriate decisions” after they hear from Pillay.
At best, Security Council member countries will follow the U.S. and EU lead and finally adopt a strong resolution explicitly demanding an end to the Assad regime. A regrettable alternative would be if those countries that have masterfully blocked any substantive Security Council action on Syria may remain unmoved.
Inaction would be a most unfortunate and disheartening message to the Syrians who have risked their lives – an estimated 2,000 dead and 30,000 detained since March – in valiantly protesting against Assad’s rule.
The window of opportunity is narrowing. On September 1, Lebanon will assume the role of Security Council president. With Iranian-created and Syrian-supported Hezbollah dominating the Lebanese government, that will be a regrettable tipping point in favor of Assad.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.