Israel cautiously optimistic about Syrian deal

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 17, 2013
Kerry meeting Netanyahu last weekend in Jerusalem (Photo: AP)

Kerry meeting Netanyahu last weekend in Jerusalem (Photo: AP)

Israeli leaders were cautiously enthusiastic this week following the deal reached by the US and Russia to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons.

Former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, warned on Sunday that “Assad has a problematic record when it comes to credibility and true intentions. After all, only a short while ago he was denying that he had chemical weapons.”

Mr Lieberman said that Israel will closely examine the Syrian list. “After we see the list Assad passes on, we will be able to know if his intentions are serious or if this is just a false move.”

A Wall Street Journal report claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had encouraged US State Secretary John Kerry to pursue the deal with the Russians, but this was later denied by the Israeli government.

Mr Netanyahu stressed his concern about the message that the agreement conveyed to Iran. He said on Sunday: “The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran. Iran must understand the consequence of its continual defiance of the international community by its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Mr Netanyahu was speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Kerry who had arrived in Jerusalem from Geneva to brief him on the agreement.

The Israeli Prime Minister added: “What the past few of days have shown is something I’ve been saying for quite some time; that, if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.”

In an attempt to shore up the confidence of Israel and America’s other allies in the region, US President Barack Obama warned on Sunday that he was still not ruling out a military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, saying that they are “much closer to our core interests” than Syria’s chemical weapons.

Despite the warning, Mr Obama said that he had exchanged letters in recent weeks with the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and some newspapers reported that two leaders may meet next week during the UN General Assembly in New York.

While the disarmament process is scheduled to take place over a year, Syria must hand over a list of all its chemical stocks by the end of this week.

Last updated: 2:51pm, September 17 2013