Assad and Iranians are bolder now, fears Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2013
Chemical weapons attack in Damascus (Photo: AP)

Chemical weapons attack in Damascus (Photo: AP)

Israel was unfazed by last Thursday’s vote in Parliament against British military intervention in Syria.

The Israeli government believes that the Obama administration will still act without Britain and the main concerns are over the implications of the political difficulties in London and Washington for future action against Iran’s nuclear programme.

Official spokespersons in Israel were refusing to comment on the British vote, adhering to the government’s policy, since the chemical attack in Syria two weeks ago, of not openly intervening in the decision-making of other countries.

The British government’s Commons defeat surprised observers in Jerusalem but the public statements of President Barack Obama and State Secretary John Kerry — as well as private discussions between the two governments — left Israel’s leaders assured that the US is determined to attack.

Jerusalem officials do not believe that Britain’s absence from the alliance against Syria will make a major difference in the regional balance.

“Britain has so far been very dependable on the Iranian issue and that is the main priority,” said a senior security official. “We have very good co-operation with London both on the economic sanctions against Iran — on which the British government is leading due to London’s importance as a global financial hub — and on intelligence-sharing.”

Two months ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz visited London for discussions with senior British defence staff.

Earlier this year, the Netanyahu government warned London against rushing to arm the rebels in Syria. Israel was concerned that advanced arms could reach jihadist rebels and that these arms would be used in the future against Israeli and Western targets.

The issue came up also in the meeting between David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu that took place following Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in London in April.

Obama’s conduct is being analysed to gauge how he would deal with Iran’s next nuclear step

Since then, the positions of both countries have shifted, with Britain less eager to supply arms to the disorganised rebel movements while Israel has lowered its objections following the concern over recent advances of Iranian-backed Hizbollah in Syria. The delay in the attack on Syria due to the vote in Parliament and President Obama’s request for congressional approval ahead of any action will significantly change the effect of what is expected to be, in any case, a limited strike.

Israel is concerned about the message that the lengthy deliberations are sending to parties in the region over the West’s motivation to deter Syria and Iran from developing and using weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Obama’s conduct in particular is being analysed to gauge how he may react if Iran decides to take the next step in its nuclear programme and enrich uranium to weapons-grade.

The US President has repeatedly said he will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a “red line” that, if crossed, would cause US to act.

It emerged last Sunday that Mr Obama had called Mr Netanyahu the previous day and informed him that he planned to defer an attack on Syria, ahead of his speech at the White House in which he publicly announced the delay.

Israeli officials said that the discussion between the leaders was aimed at co-ordinating the countries’ moves over Syria. Two weeks ago, senior US officials promised that Israel would be notified hours in advance of any possible attack on Syria.

Last updated: 1:22pm, September 3 2013