The Syrian Boy

Richard C. Gross
5 min readOct 23, 2023


By Richard C. Gross

“Israeli leadership must realize that there is no military solution to its security concerns.”

— King Abdullah II Al-Hussein of Jordan of the Hashemite dynasty, at the Cairo summit Saturday, (1962 –)

The uniformed boy, his helmet intact 0n his head, lay flat 0n his back on the dark chocolate-colored earth road to Damascus, dead. A fly buzzed on his partially open lips, his lower legs flattened by a passing vehicle, its tracks imbedded. There was no blood.

I couldn’t take my eyes from his unshaven face, his youth for me a symbol of the Arab-Israeli war that early October, 1973, when I compared him to the determined faces of young Israeli men with their heads out of tank turrets rushing into battle with invading Syrians.

He could have been any boy, a teen — I’ll never know his name, where in Syria he was from, why he joined the military, what his hopes were for the future. He should have been with friends kicking a soccer ball. He was a soldier of Syria, still today a sworn enemy of Israel.

The bright sun and shockingly blue cloudless sky sparkled as it has this time of year in the Middle East for centuries, even when mighty Rome held the area. Good weather for war, good flat ground for tanks. The sun still shines, indifferent to what lies below.

Egypt and Syria staged a surprise armored invasion of the Israeli-held Sinai and the Golan Heights in 1973 to try to get them back with violence and death instead of working at recapturing them by sitting around a table and talking.

Now there’s another war 50 Octobers later, on a far smaller scale with Israel against terrorist organizations, and with the specter of worse to come. Israel maintained its bombing of Gaza, hitting hundreds of targets and attacking Hezbollah positions in Lebanon Monday.

“After the astounding collapse of the Arab armies in 1967, Israel developed a conception that Arabs couldn’t fight, without imagining they might get better,” The New York Times quoted Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg Monday. “So, Israel was surprised by the 1973 attack,” just as Hamas surprised it Oct. 7.

“There was the preconception that we could seal off Gaza, that the measures we took would sufficiently prevent weapons from getting in,” he said. “But the problem with a technical fix to a major military problem is that the other side adapts.”

Israelis are slowly, purposefully, angrily gathering 360,000 soldiers, their armor and artillery for possible full-scale incursions into the besieged forlorn Gaza Strip, a densely populated virtual military camp of 2.1 million people run by Hamas, whose brutality knows no bounds.

Civilians are “scared” about what may come and “massive evacuations” are underway on the Gaza and Lebanese borders, a journalist in the Israel area, Paul Shindman, emailed.

“So, in the third week of the war,” he wrote, “there’ a bit of a new normal in Israel. But there’s still no entertainment programming on any TV station, except for kids’ channels, as half the country has the kids schooling remotely.”

“On the radio, there are some all-music stations back and national and local radio stations are popping in a song every now and then and after midnight it’s interviews interspersed with music,” he wrote.amas.

President Joe Biden has expressed both stalwart support, empathy and words of caution toward Israel. He condemned Hamas’ undeniable lack of mercy in its holiday surprise attack against Israeli civilians in 26 kibbutzim, small military outpost and towns near Gaza’s fenced-in border. The estimated 1,500 terrorists killed about 1,400 Israelis and captured another 200.

Biden pledged $14.3 billion in military spending for Israel in a package with another $61.4 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine. He’s backing two wars far from American shores at a time of increasing U.S. debt. I hope Congress will let him keep it up.

I believe the president is doing the right thing for the right reasons — fighting terrorism and curbing Russian attempts at destroying democracy — but he needs the people’s support if he is to continue paying for wars that are in U.S. interests. A significant election looms as polls put his favorable rating at around 40 percent.

“Israel has been badly victimized but the truth is they have an opportunity to relieve suffering of people who have nowhere to go — it’s what they should do,” Biden told reporters on a refueling stop in Germany on the way home from Israel last week.

“Justice must be done,” he said. “But I caution that, while you [Israelis] feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

War just is not worth it. It’s all about death, certainly not glory. Everybody loses. I know. I was there, seeing that Syrian boy lying ignored in that road to the wounded Israeli soldier on his back on a table in a stone hut crying for his mother over and over and over.

“The only path to a safe and secure future for the people of the Middle East and the entire world — for the Jewish people, for Christians, for Muslims alike — starts with the belief that every human life is of equal value and it ends with two states, Palestine and Israel, sharing land and peace from the river to the sea,” King Abdullah said at the Cairo summit.

We’re fortunate Trump isn’t president.

The deranged narcissist facing criminal trials in which he is charged with 91 felony counts would put himself stage front, blustering, making disconnected statements, complaining about courts, judges and law enforcement, solving nothing. Imagine the disaster, the chaos, the ignorance, the belligerence his presence before the world would cause.

Example: Just look at the confusion and mess and dysfunction that the right-wing Republican-led House has created. Not only can’t the majority govern, it can’t even elect a leader. Would you expect better from a boasting, lying know-nothing Republican president?

These two wars have made Biden a statesman. He’s become a towering figure trying with the military might of the United States and a competent team behind him and with unprecedented presidential visits to countries in the midst of conflicts to prevent hostilities from spreading, possibly to involve American soldiers.

He already has deployed two carrier battle groups and 2,000 Marines aboard ships to the area.

Older age and the experience and wisdom it begets proves Biden isn’t the doddering old man Trump keeps badgering. Trump wouldn’t even go out in the rain at a French cemetery to honor the dead of World War II, Americans among them, the losing wimp.

Biden needs all of the support Americans can give him in what I believe is his finest hour.

Richard C. Gross covered war and peace in the Middle East, was the Pentagon correspondent and foreign editor for United Press International and was the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.



Richard C. Gross

Correspondent, bureau chief and foreign editor at home and abroad with United Press International. Retired as opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.