Kerry Warns U.S. Inaction in Syria Puts Israel in Danger. Israel Says It Can Handle It.

Secretary of State John Kerry greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting on Kerry's fifth Mideast trip in Jerusalem in June.  
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Sept. 4, 2013, 10:48 a.m.

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.

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