National Infrastructures Minister Silvan Shalom said Thursday that the weakness the international community - led by the US - had displayed on Syria was being watched closely by Iran, and that Tehran had learned a lesson.
“The weakness of the international community on the Syria issue is definitely having an effect in Iran,” he said in an interview on Israel Radio.
Several weeks ago, U.S. President Barack H. Obama said that the behavior of the Syrian army over the past several years – in which some 100,000 Syrians had been killed in the ongoing civil war between the government of Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups – had been deplorable. After over 1,400 civilians killed by a chemical weapons attack on August 21, which Obama said had been carried out by Assad, the president said that the international community could no longer tolerate Assad's actions. The U.S., he said, would lead an international coalition to remove Assad from power, or at least force him to relinquish his chemical weapons program.
But since then, many commentators said, Obama has been retreating from the “red line” he drew – first by saying that he would seek permission from Congress for an attack on Syria, and then, after seeing that he did not have the votes to get a mission approved, backing down almost altogether – with the result that the U.S. has now accepted a Russian proposal to negotiate a dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons program, with Assad remaining in power.
Speaking on Israel Radio, Shalom said that it was too bad that the international coalition could not be marshaled to confront Syria.
“Syria sees that there is nothing backing up the threats against it, and now Iran understands that there is nothing backing up the threats against them, either. If nothing can be done against little Syria, so certainly nothing will be done against big Iran,” he said.
“Just a few days ago Iranian President Hassan Rouhani bragged that he would not give an inch on his nuclear development program,” Shalom said. In comments carried by Reuters, Rouhani was quoted as saying Tuesday that “In the nuclear issue, the end of the game must be a win-win game. Win-lose has no meaning. We can have a win-win game, we are ready for a win-win game.” Presumably, Shalom said, “win-win” meant that Rouhani planned to keep Iran's nuclear program intact.
“In my discussions with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta earlier this week, I said that it was clear to all Western intelligence services that Assad had used chemical weapons several times against his citizens. There is no need to wait for the UN inspectors report.” Shalom was referring to a report set to be issued next week by a UN team that for the past month has been examining Syria's chemical weapons program.
Earlier today, a part of the report was purportedly leaked to the press. According to the report the government of Bashar al-Assad was almost certainly responsible for the deaths of some 1,400 people in the Augut 21 chemical attack on a Syrian suburb.
Israel, said Shalom, was not involved in anything having to do with Syria, whether for or against Assad. “But we are concerned, since this is a major issue for the region,” he added.
Shalom's comments echoed those of former Israeli ambassador to the US, Dr. Meir Rosenne.
In an Arutz Sheva interview, Dr. Rosenne voiced his concern over the message of weakness he felt the US was broadcasting vis-a-vis the Syrian crisis.
“The message to the world is that the United States no longer has the influence it once had," he said, and that "is a very bad sign regarding what is likely to unfold in this region in the near future."
“Syria and Iran now see that there is a difference between what the United States says, and what it does," Rosenne warned.