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
See more stories about...
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.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4419) }}

What We're Following See More »
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
23 hours ago

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
19 hours ago

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
14 hours ago

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
1 hours ago

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.