Israel’s leaders are reportedly unhappy that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are citing concern over Israel being hit by Syrian chemical weapons as a means to galvanize Congressional support for a strike against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Israel is “discomfited that both Obama and Kerry mentioned Israel as a potential victim of Assad’s chemical weapons,” Israel’s Channel 2 news reported Monday night. Israel, it quoted unnamed senior Israeli officials saying, “is not a victim. We don’t need America to take care of threats to Israel.”
Israel’s army, the sources said, was perfectly capable of protecting Israel from any dangers posed by Assad.
Furthermore, if the United States did go ahead and strike at Assad, for using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 Syrians in what Kerry said Friday was a carefully planned attack on August 21, Israel would regard itself as having full “freedom of action” to respond as it saw fit, the TV report said.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he sees a low probability of Assad retaliating against Israel for any US strike, and has warned that any Syrian attack would be met with forceful response.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu urged Israelis to enjoy the forthcoming High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) starts on Wednesday night — and warned, “If anyone thinks of disturbing the tranquility of the festival, he should know what’s in store for him.”
During his Rose Garden remarks on Saturday, Obama called the August 21 attack “an assault on human dignity… It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons…”
Kerry, a day earlier, bracketing Assad with Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein in making an urgent case for military intervention, said “our choice today has great consequences… It matters to our security and the security of our allies. It matters to Israel.”
In a telephone call on Saturday, some four hours before he surprisingly announced that he would seek Congressional authorization before a strike on Syria, Obama reportedly telephoned Netanyahu to give him advance warning of his change of heart. Obama told Netanyahu in that conversation that his stance on Syria had “no negative implications” for his policies aimed at thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive, Channel 2 further reported, quoting the president as saying to Netanyahu, “I remain determined to prevent Iran going nuclear.”
Kerry also reportedly telephoned Netanyahu, on Sunday, and insisted that Assad would be “held accountable” for the August 21 attack.
Privately, Israeli leaders are said to be worried that Iran will read the delay in a US-led strike on Assad as an indication of American hesitancy and weakness, with potential implications for the Islamic Republic’s drive to a nuclear weapons capability. Netanyahu has ordered his ministers to stay silent on the issue of Obama’s change of heart, but a former Israeli national security adviser, Giora Eiland, said flatly in a radio interview Monday that he considered the Obama shift to be “a mistake” — and noted that it gave Assad further leeway to keep killing the civilians that an American response would be designed to protect.
Channel 2 quoted unnamed senior American sources as saying that tackling Syria was “complex” but “marginal from a strategic point of view.” They reportedly said Obama was concerned not to get the US drawn into the Syrian civil war, but that the president was adamant that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would not be allowed to pass without the appropriate response.
The American sources said Obama was telling members of Congress, as he sought to persuade them to authorize a strike, that America’s deterrent capability vis-a-vis Syria, Hezbollah and Iran would be damaged were it not to take military action against Assad. Anyone worried by Iran’s nuclear program should support hitting Assad, the sources said Obama was telling members of Congress.
The TV report said the White House was hoping that the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC would help win Congressional support for Obama to strike at Syria.