Israel will have to grapple on its own with the threat posed by Iran’s drive to attain nuclear weapons, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avigdor Liberman warned on Tuesday, speaking as the world watched a Russian-initiated proposal push off any likely US-led intervention against the Assad regime in Syria..
“We rely only on ourselves. At end of the day, from 1948 onward, no outsiders protected Israel. We dealt with all threats alone. We have no expectations or demands from the world,” the blunt-talking Liberman told Israel’s Channel 2 TV. Similarly, where Iran’s nuclear program was concerned, Israel “will have to deal with it on our own,” said Liberman, the former foreign minister who is No. 2 to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset’s Likud-Beytenu alliance.
Liberman’s statements came as the world grapples with the Syrian crisis. The US administration has been readying a possible military strike in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime on August 21, but President Barack Obama chose to seek authorization first from a wary Congress, while Russia remains vehemently opposed to military intervention and on Monday came up with a deal, accepted by Syria, to have Assad’s WMD program internationally monitored.
That proposed arrangement was received by the US administration as “potentially a positive development.” Obama himself said Monday the Russian proposal could be “potentially a significant breakthrough,” but he remained skeptical that Syria would follow through. If Assad gave up control of his chemical weapons, Obama said, the crisis would be “absolutely” back from the brink. In a series of US TV interviews, Obama made plain that his goal was not to intervene militarily in Syria, but rather to put a stop to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
Israel has watched closely as the US has dithered on a response in Syria, and has indicated a concern that should a nuclear confrontation with Iran come to a head, there would be a similarly uncertain American reaction.
US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the concern Tuesday, saying: “Iran looms out there with its nuclear program and the challenge we have been facing… they’re watching what we do here… If we choose not to act, we’ll be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence, American weakness.”
Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party, also reiterated earlier statements that Israel was trying to stay out of the Syrian civil war, which he described as the “most cruel of the 21st century.”
But Assad and his circle would become legitimate targets if the Syrian regime crosses Israel’s red lines, Liberman warned on Tuesday.
“If Assad tries to drag us in [to the civil war], by attacking us, or by passing chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Israel will have to respond. The only thing that will deter [him] is the threat of losing his rule. Assad and his close circle will become legitimate targets if they fire at Israel,” Liberman said.
Earlier Tuesday, Liberman said that details of the Rusian deal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control were highly murky, and warned that the plan could potentially serve the interests of the Assad regime.
“Assad is winning time and lots of it,” as a result of the Russian plan, he said.
Comparing the situation to that of Iran’s nuclear program, he noted that the Syrian leader could use the initiative to “buy time” and stall any real international involvement, military or other.