Daily Israel Report

'Don't Try Us'

Israeli PM Netanyahu sends warning to regional foes as reactions to Obama's hesitancy continue.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 9/1/2013, 2:32 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared Sunday that the Jewish state was prepared for "every possible scenario" in neighboring Syria after US President Barack Obama postponed a threatened missile strike.  

"Israel is calm and sure of itself, the citizens of Israel know that we are prepared for every possible scenario," he told ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Obama had promised to act against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons, but on Saturday announced that he would first seek endorsement from Congress, effectively pushing any military action back until at least September 9, when US lawmakers return from their summer recess.  

The US administration's perceived weakness and uncertainty has been watched keenly in the Middle East by friend and foe alike, splitting Arab opinion and provoking ridicule from the Syrian regime and its allies.

Israeli right-wing MKs have also responded strongly to Obama's uncertainty, publicly questioning America's willingness to back the Jewish state in a time of crisis.

Among them was Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) MK and Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman.

"The hesitation and hypocrisy of America and the rest of the ‘free world’ confirms the suspicion that when it comes to maintaining the security of the state of Israel, we cannot rely on others and their promises, but we must be prepared to protect and secure ourselves,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sought to calm domestic fears that a US-led attack on Syria could prompt Assad or his Lebanese allies Hezbollah to retaliate against neighboring Israel, regarded as Washington's key ally in the region.

"Our enemies have very good reasons not to try our strength, not to test our power," he said. "They know why."

Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres have both insisted that Israel is not involved in the bloody conflict in Syria, in which over 100,000 people have been killed, but will respond if attacked.

Neither Netanyahu nor his senior cabinet colleagues referred directly to Obama's surprise announcement, but Bayit Yehudi MK and Housing Minister Uri Ariel had advice for Washington regarding Assad.  

"This is a murdering coward," he told army radio. "Take care of him."  

During the meeting, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau was asked whether he trusts the president of the United States. In an indirect swipe at the US administration, he responded: "I trust our heavenly Father and with Israel. The U.S. president has spoken, and we have to return to our regular lives."

"If on the Syrian issue, Obama hesitates, it’s obvious he will not attack Iran, a move expected to be far more complicated. Obama hesitates too long, and therefore there’s a greater chance that Israel will act alone," Landau said, quoted by the official IDF Radio.

In a separate interview regarding the decision of the U.S., former chief of staff Dan Halutz stated that it is still too early to determine if there will be an attack.

"Timing does not necessarily signify immediate urgency. Therefore, all of the talk surrounding ‘the imminent attack on Syria' was just talk," said Halutz. "The Americans cannot ignore the fact that they have no coalition. They are alone in this battle.”

Criticism of Obama's slow response to the Syrian regime's gas attacks against civilians also came from the political left.

"Where was the United States when more than 100,000 people, for more than two and a half years, were killed in attacks using conventional weapons? Do they care which weapons were used to kill them?" asked the left-leaning Haaretz in an editorial.

"Senior Israeli officials said they believed that no matter how things developed going forward, the Americans had already lost their momentum, and any attack that would now be staged now would not be effective," according to Yediot Aharonot.

"Assad is sitting and rubbing his hands together gleefully, and the Iranians are laughing their way to the nuclear bomb."  

Israel, which has the Middle East's sole, albeit undeclared, nuclear arsenal, regards key Damascus ally Iran as its deadly foe.  

Along with the West, Israel suspects the Islamic republic of trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of its nuclear programme, a claim Tehran denies.