Maintaining Israel’s efforts to stay out of the Syrian crisis, most members of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stayed silent Saturday night in response to US President Barack Obama’s decision to seek Congressional authorization for a strike against the Assad regime.
Only members of the hardline Jewish Home party responded, criticizing the president. Uri Ariel, the minister of housing (Jewish Home), declared that “in Tehran, they’re opening the champagne, and switching into a higher gear en route to nuclear weapons.” Ariel noted the 100,000 corpses in Syria, accused the world of doing nothing, and concluded that, “facing real dangers, no one in the world will stand with us.”
On Sunday, Ariel repeated his criticism, calling Assad a cowardly killer, who had indiscriminately killed thousands, and who needed to be confronted. “He’s not a lion, he’s a murderous rabbit; take care of him already.”
The Netanyahu cabinet was to be briefed by the chief of the General Staff, Benny Gantz, and other security chiefs, on Sunday.
Privately, officials in Jerusalem were said to be unsurprised by Obama’s decision, regarding it as being in accord with his approach to the presidency. The initial sense in Jerusalem, according to Israel Radio, is that Obama will win Congressional approval for a strike. Nonetheless, the delay of more than a week before Congress meets on the issue could open other avenues, including a possible Russian effort to persuade the Assad regime to send its chemical weapons supplies to Russia and thus avert a strike, the radio report said. Talks on such an arrangement could potentially continue for weeks.
Several leading Hebrew media commentators said Netanyahu was likely less than happy about the delay in US military action, which was announced by Obama only a day after Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the imperative for action. Kerry insisted Friday that President Bashar Assad’s regime had carefully planned the August 21 attack, in which he said 1,429 people were killed.
Nadav Eyal, on Israel’s Channel 10 news, said Obama’s hesitancy would give Netanyahu nightmares about the US president’s capacity to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.
On the same channel, analyst Zvi Yehezkeli, said that Tehran would consider Washington as “a paper tiger.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich, by contrast, praised Obama’s “moral” handling of the crisis, and said Israel needed to rely on its friend and ally to consider the moral and strategic aspects of tackling “a dictatorial regime that is murdering its own people.”
MK Nachman Shai (Labor) said that the delay would give Israel a time to prepare for the eventuality – slight by official estimations — that Israel would absorb rocket attacks in retaliation for an American strike.
“We received a narrow window to speed up the production and distribution of protective kits, to fill holes in our readiness, and to preapre the population for an population,” he wrote on Facebook.
Shai, who as IDF spokesman during the first Gulf War served as a soothing voice to calm the fears of many Israelis, recently told The Times of Israel that the Home Front was in better shape than two decades ago, but gas mask distribution issues still needed to be worked out.
Hebrew media reports late Saturday reported that Syrian government officials were bragging that the US had “lost the war before it started,” and that Syria’s mufti was claiming Obama “has withdrawn; we have been victorious.”
Jacob Dayan, a former Israeli consul general to Los Angeles, said Obama “broadcast weakness today,” and that this would harm the US deterrent capacity in the Middle East.