I don’t know if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a hockey fan, but I hope he was watching the opening game of the National Hockey League championship series April 30 in St. Louis. It held a useful lesson for Middle East diplomats.
The home team, the St. Louis Blues, isn’t what you’d call championship material. They’ve never won the coveted Stanley Cup. They haven’t even reached the finals since 1970. But this year might be different, if April 30 was any indication.
Their opponents were the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. The game was tied 1-1 when the regulation third period ended, triggering overtime. Twelve minutes later, a St. Louis defenseman was sidelined for injuring an opponent. The penalty left the Blues a player short, dimming their chances.
Seconds later, the Blues’ Alex Steen grabbed the puck from the Kings goalie, who had skated behind the goal, leaving the front unguarded. Steen deftly slipped the puck over the red goal line and into the empty net, winning the game.
The moral: Red lines are there to be crossed. If you’re on top and you want to stay there, don’t get caught on the wrong side of a red line.
Western leaders seem lately to be tripping over red lines with embarrassing frequency. President Obama identified one on August 20, 2012, when he warned Syria’s Bashar al-Assad of “enormous consequences” if chemical weapons enter the civil war. “A red line for us,” he said, “is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around.”
Well, we’ve started seeing the weapons. It sounds like the red line has been crossed. It’s unclear, though. We don’t know if it was “a whole bunch” or, more likely, just a smidgeon. This is critical. The point of chemical weapons is to blanket an area and cause mass deaths. Current reports show only a handful of deaths. Perhaps it wasn’t a tactical deployment. Was the regime toying with Obama, testing him? Did a rogue unit finagle a canister or two? If so, were they regime or rebels? Was a red line really crossed? If it was, who do we go after?