Yesterday the Rabbinical Assembly had the privilege of co-hosting a conference call with Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, to discuss the events unfolding in Syria and the President’s response to them. The call, which was also sponsored by the CCAR, RRC, and RCA, involved close to 700 rabbis and Jewish professionals.
Mr. Rhodes spoke about the strong evidence indicating the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in eleven locations outside Damascus in late August. He outlined the moral, legal, and symbolic distinctions between conventional weaponry and chemical agents, citing a different magnitude of lethality and the many international accords banning the manufacture and use of chemical weapons. Mr. Rhodes explained the options that the President is currently considering in light of the danger that such weapons pose to America’s regional allies, including a limited-scope military strike and the recent Russian proposal to diplomatically secure and destroy Syria’s stock of chemical agents. He emphasized that any strategy will emphasize negotiation and the political process as part of the long-term goals of helping Syria achieve political self-determination and ensuring that the Assad government is never again capable of using chemical weapons.
At the end of the call Mr. Rhodes took questions from participating rabbis. He detailed the Administration’s previous non-military efforts to curb violence in Syria, including sanctions, sending warnings to Syria through its allies, and international diplomacy. He also spoke about the government’s ongoing efforts to support moderate elements of the opposition and prevent a government takeover by extremist elements among the rebels. He explained recent coordination with regional allies, including Israel, and what the government is doing to help ensure their security, and expressed the President’s determination to make clear that massacres such as the ones carried out in Syria cannot go unanswered by America and the international community.
The Rabbinical Assembly is grateful to Mr. Rhodes and the Obama Administration for their participation on the call and their eagerness to make American Jewish leaders a part of this conversation. We pray that their efforts to bring peace to the Syrian people and security to the United States of America will bear fruit soon.