When it comes to a strike on Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has guarantees. Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry said that if the United States does not intervene, Bashar al-Assad’s regime will strike with another chemical-weapons attack. Countries like Iran and North Korea will push ahead with their nuclear programs. And American allies in the Middle East will become targets.
He said these U.S. allies are counting on the country to stop Assad. “They anxiously await our assurance that our word means something.”
But one of them may not be as anxious as Kerry’s assertions seem to suggest. Israel is unhappy that the White House is citing concern over the country’s safety as it builds its case before Congress for a strike, according to a report on Israel’s Channel 2 news Monday night cited by The Times of Israel. “We don’t need America to take care of threats to Israel,” one unnamed senior official said.
Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t the first time Kerry cited Israel as an ally in need of protection from a potential Syrian chemical-weapons attack. In a statement on Friday, he said that taking action “matters to our security and the security of our allies. It matters to Israel.”
At the hearing, he elaborated on the danger the Assad regime poses to Israel. “I can make it crystal clear to you that Israel will be less safe unless the United States takes this action,” Kerry told Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who suggested that military action could lead Assad to retaliate against the U.S. by attacking its Middle Eastern allies such as Israel, Jordan, and Turkey.
Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, however, is not worried about that. “I’ve heard it suggested that a reason why the U.S. should not act in Syria is fear of retribution against Israel,” he said in a statement Tuesday night. “In response, I say unequivocally that Israel can defend itself and will respond forcefully to any aggression by Syria.”
At the hearing, Kerry cited Iran and Hezbollah as some of Assad’s biggest allies — and Israel’s biggest enemies. “If Iran and Hezbollah are advantaged by the United States not curbing Assad’s use of chemical weapons, there is a much greater likelihood that at some point down the road, Hezbollah … will have access to these weapons of mass destruction. And Israel will for certain be less secure.”
Following the Aug. 21 attacks that killed more than 1,400 people, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in the event of an attack by the Assad regime, Israel would respond “forcefully.” On Tuesday, Kerry reminded senators of that, saying that Netanyahu “feels very confident about Israel’s ability to be able to deal” with threats from the Syrian government. So, the Israeli government has made it clear the country is not a victim. The White House, however, appears set on citing the need to protect Israel, as well as other allies in the Middle East, as a reason to move forward with military action.