Never Again?

"Never Again" was a rallying cry for Jews after the Holocaust.  Never again would Jews be defenseless.  Never again would Jews be force-marched, starved, and gassed without a response.  Never again would Jews wait to be rescued.  Never again would Jews look at burgeoning anti-Semitism and direct threats and be slothful.  Never again would Jews go quietly.

It worked out that way for the Jews.  The State of Israel; the IDF; the self-confidence of Jews in the United States, Canada, and Australia; and the utter shame of the European countries for the craven and complicit way their people and governments behaved served to protect the remnant of European Jewry and rescue 800,000 Jews from Arab countries, plus Russians, Yemenites, Ethiopians, and Iranians.

But what happens when the forced march, starving, and gas happen to someone else?  And what happens, specifically, when the United States, France, and Russia – World War II allies – stand around not only watching, but complicit?  What happens when it happens in Syria?

To begin with – starvation and gas.  The Syrian military under the protection of Russian air cover has dropped weaponized chlorine on civilians in various Sunni areas of Syria.

Secretary of defense James Mattis laid blame on both.  "Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad," Mattis said.  He said it would be "very unwise" for the Assad regime to use chemical weapons.  Acknowledging there is "no evidence" of the use of sarin gas – specifically banned by the Geneva Conventions – "there's an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas."  He added, "Right now we're getting reports – I don't have evidence that I can show you – but I'm aware of the reports of chlorine gas use."  Chlorine gas kills just as surely.

The whole performance was mealy-mouthed at best.  Our troops are in Syria – not in the areas under chemical attack, but in Syria.  If we don't have evidence, it is because we'd rather not find it.  That makes the Russians culpable and the Americans complicit.

Next is the question of forcible population transfers.  Iran is not using cattle cars, but it is assuredly committed to forcible removal of the Sunni center of Syria and transferring Shiites in behind them.  Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

'Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive[.]' ... Notwithstanding the prohibition in Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49(2) authorises an Occupying Power to 'undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.'  However, Article 49(2) is subject to a number of strict conditions.  These include the following: 'Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.'

The second prohibition in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 is in Article 49(6): "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

During the trial of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the historic case involving the prosecution of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader during the erstwhile conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  The International Criminal Tribunal wrote: "Deportation ['across a de jure border'] and forcible transfer ['within national boundaries'] are defined as: (i) the forced displacement of one or more persons by expulsion or other forms of coercion, (ii) from an area in which they are lawfully present, (iii) without grounds permitted under international law[.]'"

This is the bludgeon with which Israel is frequently pounded, although there simply is no "forcible transfer" in either direction.  On the other hand, Iran and its 82,000-man Shiite militia driving Sunni Syrians north and out of the country requires a careful look.

Iran sees Syria as part of the Shiite Crescent that goes from Iran through Iraq through Syria and Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea.  Syria is the weak link because, although the government is Alawite, Shiites are a distinct minority in country.  If Iran plans to stay in Syria, which it appears to be planning – both because of the Crescent and as a base against Israel – it needs both fewer Sunnis and more Shiites.

Syria's population before the war was 23 million.  In the last census that asked about religion – 1960 – the country was more or less 75% Sunni (17.25 million); 11% Alawite, which is heterodox Shiite (2.53 million); and almost 11% Christian and Druze together (2.53 million).  Since 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, and 6.1 million are internally displaced.  A large majority of them are Sunni Muslims.  If the population fell to 17 million (23 minus 6 million external refugees), and if only half were Sunni (not true, but go with it), the Sunni percentage of the total would be 70.3%.  If 5 million of the 5.6 million external refugees were Sunni, the Sunni percentage of the total would be 89.3%.

The main Alawite area is on the western coast; the primary Sunni areas are Damascus, Homs, and Hama.  Kurds are in the north.  Most of the destruction since 2011 has been in the "Sunni Center" (you can see the damage in Homs and Hama and Aleppo) with less on the west coast near Latakia, where the Russians have a naval base, safe within Assad's home territory.  The current vicious fighting in Ghouta is led by Iranian-organized Shiite militias, undeterred by the U.N. demand to stop.  With the broad movement out of Sunni-dominated areas under the yoke of an Alawite government supported by Shiite Iran and its Afghan and Pakistani militia members, you have what appears to be "ethnic cleansing."

This raises another question about "forcible population transfers."  Clearly, the Syrians who have fled their homes were "forcibly" ousted – meeting one prohibition of the Geneva Conventions.  The other is, perhaps, less clear.

"Never Again" was a rallying cry for Jews after the Holocaust.  Never again would Jews be defenseless.  Never again would Jews be force-marched, starved, and gassed without a response.  Never again would Jews wait to be rescued.  Never again would Jews look at burgeoning anti-Semitism and direct threats and be slothful.  Never again would Jews go quietly.

It worked out that way for the Jews.  The State of Israel; the IDF; the self-confidence of Jews in the United States, Canada, and Australia; and the utter shame of the European countries for the craven and complicit way their people and governments behaved served to protect the remnant of European Jewry and rescue 800,000 Jews from Arab countries, plus Russians, Yemenites, Ethiopians, and Iranians.

But what happens when the forced march, starving, and gas happen to someone else?  And what happens, specifically, when the United States, France, and Russia – World War II allies – stand around not only watching, but complicit?  What happens when it happens in Syria?

To begin with – starvation and gas.  The Syrian military under the protection of Russian air cover has dropped weaponized chlorine on civilians in various Sunni areas of Syria.

Secretary of defense James Mattis laid blame on both.  "Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad," Mattis said.  He said it would be "very unwise" for the Assad regime to use chemical weapons.  Acknowledging there is "no evidence" of the use of sarin gas – specifically banned by the Geneva Conventions – "there's an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas."  He added, "Right now we're getting reports – I don't have evidence that I can show you – but I'm aware of the reports of chlorine gas use."  Chlorine gas kills just as surely.

The whole performance was mealy-mouthed at best.  Our troops are in Syria – not in the areas under chemical attack, but in Syria.  If we don't have evidence, it is because we'd rather not find it.  That makes the Russians culpable and the Americans complicit.

Next is the question of forcible population transfers.  Iran is not using cattle cars, but it is assuredly committed to forcible removal of the Sunni center of Syria and transferring Shiites in behind them.  Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

'Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive[.]' ... Notwithstanding the prohibition in Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49(2) authorises an Occupying Power to 'undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand.'  However, Article 49(2) is subject to a number of strict conditions.  These include the following: 'Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.'

The second prohibition in Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 is in Article 49(6): "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

During the trial of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the historic case involving the prosecution of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader during the erstwhile conflict in the former Yugoslavia.  The International Criminal Tribunal wrote: "Deportation ['across a de jure border'] and forcible transfer ['within national boundaries'] are defined as: (i) the forced displacement of one or more persons by expulsion or other forms of coercion, (ii) from an area in which they are lawfully present, (iii) without grounds permitted under international law[.]'"

This is the bludgeon with which Israel is frequently pounded, although there simply is no "forcible transfer" in either direction.  On the other hand, Iran and its 82,000-man Shiite militia driving Sunni Syrians north and out of the country requires a careful look.

Iran sees Syria as part of the Shiite Crescent that goes from Iran through Iraq through Syria and Lebanon and out to the Mediterranean Sea.  Syria is the weak link because, although the government is Alawite, Shiites are a distinct minority in country.  If Iran plans to stay in Syria, which it appears to be planning – both because of the Crescent and as a base against Israel – it needs both fewer Sunnis and more Shiites.

Syria's population before the war was 23 million.  In the last census that asked about religion – 1960 – the country was more or less 75% Sunni (17.25 million); 11% Alawite, which is heterodox Shiite (2.53 million); and almost 11% Christian and Druze together (2.53 million).  Since 2011, more than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, and 6.1 million are internally displaced.  A large majority of them are Sunni Muslims.  If the population fell to 17 million (23 minus 6 million external refugees), and if only half were Sunni (not true, but go with it), the Sunni percentage of the total would be 70.3%.  If 5 million of the 5.6 million external refugees were Sunni, the Sunni percentage of the total would be 89.3%.

The main Alawite area is on the western coast; the primary Sunni areas are Damascus, Homs, and Hama.  Kurds are in the north.  Most of the destruction since 2011 has been in the "Sunni Center" (you can see the damage in Homs and Hama and Aleppo) with less on the west coast near Latakia, where the Russians have a naval base, safe within Assad's home territory.  The current vicious fighting in Ghouta is led by Iranian-organized Shiite militias, undeterred by the U.N. demand to stop.  With the broad movement out of Sunni-dominated areas under the yoke of an Alawite government supported by Shiite Iran and its Afghan and Pakistani militia members, you have what appears to be "ethnic cleansing."

This raises another question about "forcible population transfers."  Clearly, the Syrians who have fled their homes were "forcibly" ousted – meeting one prohibition of the Geneva Conventions.  The other is, perhaps, less clear.