Israel fears US leaving it alone to stop Iran nuclear programme – FT.com

Israel fears US leaving it alone to stop Iran nuclear programme – FT.com.

Lack of US resolve on Syria chemical weapons sets a bad precedent

When Barack Obama visited Israel in March, he made a speech in Jerusalem – virtuosic in parts and cloying in others – meant to endear him to an Israeli public which felt it neither knew nor trusted him much.

Atem lo levad (“You are not alone”), he intoned in American-accented Hebrew, channelling the same spirit of solidarity that John F. Kennedy invoked when he declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” in blockaded West Berlin in 1963.

Israelis are now recalling Mr Obama’s speech ruefully after his decision to refer any military action against Syria to Congress. Asked afterwards about how the decision made them feel, many offered up this word: “alone”.

Their worry is not that Israel is being left alone to cope with Syria, whose war Israel’s government and most of its people want no direct part in.

The fear – and it is a big one – is about the message America’s perceived wavering on Syria sends to its bigger and much more powerful ally: Iran.

Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made containing the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme the defining issue of his premiership, has said repeatedly in recent days that Syria is a “testing ground” for Iran.

Any lack of US resolve over disciplining Bashar al-Assad’s government for crossing “red lines” on chemical weapons use, Israelis feel, sets a bad precedent for efforts to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Israel was already worried western resolve to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions was ebbing after the election of relative moderate Hassan Rouhani as president.

Mr Netanyahu, mindful of Israel’s delicate position in a region where Mr Assad or Hizbollah might respond to a US strike by attacking it, has told his ministers not to talk to the media about Syria.

However, Naftali Bennett, economy minister and head of the far-right Jewish Home party, gave one insight into official thinking on Friday – before Mr Obama’s speech, but after Britain voted against military action – when he wrote on Facebook: “The international stuttering and hesitancy on Syria just proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself.”

Commentators in Israel put it in earthier terms when they chided Mr Obama by quoting a line from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot – don’t talk”.

“You hear more and more people in government saying, ‘Can we really rely on the US to stop Iran?” said Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli general and international fellow with The Washington Institute for Middle East Policy. “If they can’t take a decision on a red line in Syria, why should we think they could do so on Iran?”

US resolve in Syria, Israelis say, has proved weak on a chemical weapons red line that according to the British intelligence dossier was crossed at least 14 times before the attack outside Damascus that prompted a hesitant US call to arms.

If [the US] can’t take a decision on a red line in Syria, why should we think they could do so on Iran?– Mike Herzog, The Washington Institute for Middle East Policy

Whereas gruesome news pictures of gasping victims provided apparent visual evidence that chemical weapons had been used, the trigger for action in Iran is more fungible and open to interpretation, and Israel and the US define it differently.

The US has said it would not accept a nuclear Iran, but Israel thinks this is too fuzzy. Mr Netanyahu, speaking at the UN last September, said that Iran must be stopped before it had amassed enough 20 per cent-enriched uranium for a single bomb. Israel says Iran has not reached this but is taking broader actions such as building centrifuges that would make it easier to cross the nuclear threshold quickly.

“Red lines don’t lead to war; red lines prevent war,” Mr Netanyahu said in his UN speech, in which he brandished a cartoon of a sputtering bomb. “I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down.”

Israelis are this week more doubtful on that point, with many saying that US prevarication on Syria has weakened the red line’s deterrence. Some worry it is now more likely that Iran will cross it and if forced to act, Israel may need to go it alone.

“Will the US back its own red lines and do something about Iran?” asked Yoel Guzansky, a researcher for the Institute for National Security Studies. “The answer after Obama’s speech is n

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One Comment on “Israel fears US leaving it alone to stop Iran nuclear programme – FT.com”

  1. IAmSpartacus Says:

    This isn’t really anything new; it’s been obvious that the US is never going to attack Iran for a very long time; Bush never did, and Obama won’t, either; neither will the next President, whoever that may be. Nor should the US attack Iran; the difference between an Israeli attack and an American attack is the difference between a localized Israel-Iran war and World War 3. If Israel strikes Iran, Russia and China probably won’t like it, but will most likely stay out of it, but Russia and China have already made it crystal clear, on multiple occasions, that they would view a US attack on Iran as a threat to their national security, and that they wovld come to Iran’s aid, which would, most likely, lead to global armageddon.


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