Israel fears being left alone to counter Iran nuclear programme – FT.com

Israel fears being left alone to counter 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”), the US president 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 no – we are alone. That’s a very basic feeling – this is what people here think.”

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3 Comments on “Israel fears being left alone to counter Iran nuclear programme – FT.com”

  1. CARLOS LIZARRAGA IN MIAMI Says:

    CARLOS LIZARRAGA IN MIAMI Says:

    September 3, 2013 at 8:33 AM
    I believe other countries in the neighborhood of Israel are just as concened about Iran acquiring nucler weapons.And I point in particular to the Saudi’s that have staunchly supported the rebels along with Qatar.Jordan and Turkey as well fear the Iranians.Ostensibly,what appears as a retreat by President Obama for the nations mentioned here;might be after all a step taken backwards to later take two steps forward.By this I do not believe that if he attacks Syria-which I believe he will not-congress will bale him out on that one-but instead will reach some agreement as mentioned in this site in another article;that the chemical warfare materials be removed to Iran under Russian supervision.That move will kill two birds with one stone.It would please very much the Obama administration that there are no longer chemical warfare elements in Syria to be used by the government against the civilian population and the weapons would also be out of the reach of the terrorist elements now combating the Syrian government.And this can be accomplished without any military intervention by the U.S, and its allies.The countries I mentioned here that are against Syria no doubt understand they are in the cross hairs of the Iranians and the Russians.Moreover,it has been very sobering for them to come to the understanding ,and in particular Israel and the Saudis-that it is their problem solely to counter Iran.It would behoove these countries to be prepared to go at it alone in any military action against Iran. Sadly,the victims of the chemical warfare will not receive any justice for the time being.And this should be a lesson that should be learned well by the Saudis and Israel.

  2. Ira Says:

    Israel fears being left alone?
    Israel for starters is NEVER alone.
    Furthermore, I have understood from other articles posted on this site that the cowardly Iranian Revolutionary Guards fled Syria with their tails twixt der hindquarters as soon as there was any serious smell of war in the air. With that in mind, it may be questionable if Israel really HAS anything substantial to fear at this point.
    Add to that the fact that Israel is not and never has been able to afford that luxurious commodity called fear.
    Total it all up and we might find it more appropriate to say that Israel would actually appreciate being “left alone” to deal with her enemies as she sees fit?

  3. OyiaBrown Says:

    Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.


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