The MH17 Crash Could Have Surprising Consequences in the Middle East

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July 22 2014 1:12 PM

The Unexpected Consequences of MH17

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Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.

Photo by Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

I’ve been skeptical about how much the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger jet last week will actually chance the situation in Ukraine, but it may have some surprising effects elsewhere.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines have canceled flights to Israel after reports of a rocket landing near Ben Gurion Airport. An in-progress flight from New York to Tel Aviv was reportedly diverted to Paris today.

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This is a big deal for Israel, where the tourism and business sectors have generally been fairly well-insulated from Israeli-Palestinian violence. It’s also hard to imagine this happening if not for the increased nervousness of passengers and airlines following the destruction of MH17.

The situations are very different—Hamas isn’t firing advanced, radar-guided missiles—but after last week, I would have to imagine that the previously low bar for what airlines consider an acceptable risk in flying near conflict areas will be raised much higher.

It will also be interesting to see if the incident has any impact on the debate over whether to supply anti-aircraft weapons to the anti-Assad rebels in Syria. Rebels have made the case that anti-aircraft weapons are needed to neutralize the Syrian military’s air advantage. It was, after all, U.S.-provided Stinger missiles that turned the tide against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Some U.S. congressional leaders have suggested they might be open to the idea of providing anti-aircraft systems to some carefully vetted rebels.

But American commentators are already drawing the connection between U.S. support of the Syrian rebels and Russian support of the Ukrainian separatists. I imagine that it’s going to be harder for the rebels to make the case than the weapons they want will be used responsibly and won’t fall into the wrong hands.

As Milton Bearden, a CIA veteran who worked to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, told me last year, once you give anti-aircraft weapons to a rebel group, “don't try to convince yourself that you're in control.”