By Britain Eakin

The world expects the United States to take the lead in resolving the crisis in Syria, says a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

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Itamar Rabinovich, former ambassador and a Syrian expert who appeared at a recent panel discussion on the issue at the University of Arizona, said President Barack Obama should act now on Syria, with reelection behind him.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has repeatedly called for U.S. intervention, including providing arms to Syrian groups opposed to the government there.

In his news conference last week, Obama spoke about the newly formed Syrian opposition umbrella group, saying he viewed it as “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

But Obama also said the United States is not prepared to recognize the group as a government in exile, nor is the U.S. ready to provide arms to the Syrian opposition.

“It is unfortunately a great humanitarian tragedy," Rabinovich said. "There may be almost 30,000 dead, probably 2- or 300,000 refugees, and if this goes on, the numbers will go up before it falls."

There are other reasons for the U.S. to act, says Rabinovich. The crisis has great destabilizing potential in the Middle East, because it has a spillover effect into neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan he says.

That spillover reached Israel earlier this month, when Israeli forces shot a guided anti-tank missile into Syria after several stray Syrian shells entered the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

There is also the Iranian factor.

“Iran is a big supporter of (Syria's) Assad regime, and several other Middle Eastern countries who are Iran’s opponents are against the regime," Rabinovich said. "So the civil war is also a war by proxy between Iran and its rivals."

Muhammad Al-Khudair, a UA graduate student from Syria, said Iran has a lot at stake in the outcome of the Syrian crisis. Al-Khudair also participated in the recent Tucson panel on Syria.

He said he doesn’t think what’s happening in Syria is a civil war.

“It cannot be called a civil war because there’s no two equal parties fighting," Al-Khudair said. "It’s a government supported by other governments like Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah."

Al-Khudair said a more appropriate label for what’s happening in Syria is genocide. He said he’s worried about what’s going on in his homeland.

“When you’re here, you’re worried about everyone else," he said. "You feel that you’re not doing anything – you’re helpless. And you are far from your country and you you’re worried for everyone there."