Defusing the Syrian Time Bomb

TEL AVIV – It is remarkable that a stern warning about the scale of the threat posed to the United States by Syria’s civil war has gone practically unnoticed. Is President Barack Obama’s administration stumbling toward the abyss?

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that, according to the CIA’s deputy director, Michael Morell, “Syria’s volatile mix of Al Qaeda extremism and civil war now poses the greatest threat to US national security” – indeed, “probably the most important issue in the world today.” By contrast, Morell described the Iranian regime’s “merging of...nuclear ambitions with its desire to be a hegemonic power in the Middle East” as a mere “cause for concern.” Morell, who is preparing to step down from the CIA soon, has little reason to dissemble.

Just two months ago, in mid-June, when the Syrian crisis was the focus of international attention and the subject of heated policy debate, such a statement by a senior administration official would have drawn strong reactions from several quarters. But Syria has since moved from the center of attention, displaced by the coup and ongoing crisis in Egypt, the threat of an Al Qaeda terror offensive in Yemen and elsewhere, and the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The apparent (and deceptive) lull in the fighting in Syria has contributed to this shift. After the government’s military achievements in Quseir and Homs, there has been some tactical regrouping by the opposition. Both sides are trading minor blows as they prepare for a major round of fighting in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, now held by the opposition. Overall, and despite the regime’s recent victories, the fighting remains at a stalemate.