How Israel Is driving the US to War in Syria
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The Assad regime may indeed be responsible for the Ghouta massacre, but Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus does not exactly have a reputation for trustworthiness. (Consider, for example, the Israeli army’s shameless attempt to link the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to Al Qaeda by plastering Israeli media with crude and easily discredited propaganda, always sourced to anonymous national security officials.) Yet in his determination to see the US attack the country he recently referred to as “Iran’s testing ground,” Netanyahu appeared to be succeeding in his campaign to bring Obama’s red line back into focus.
The rush to war, interrupted
On August 26, an Israeli delegation containing Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and a collection of Shin Bet and top army officials arrived in Washington for a series of meetings coordinated by US National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The agenda was to plan for the aftermath of a US strike on Syria that was already inevitable, at least from the perspective of the meeting’s participants.
The following day, Vice President Joseph Biden became the highest level US official to blame Assad for Ghouta, declaring, “There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: The Syrian regime.” The Obama administration supported Biden’s claim by citing classified communications intercepted from Syrian officials – intelligence that appeared to have been supplied by the Israelis.
Giora Inbar, a former Israeli intelligence officer, told Channel 2 that the US was not only “aware of” Israel’s intelligence gathering efforts in Syria, it “relies upon it.”
With Kerry and Rice joining Biden in the spotlight to make the case for bombing Syria, the White House released an intelligence report “assess[ing] with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.”
The content of the report was extremely general in nature, containing a caveat that some intelligence had been omitted “to protect sources and methods.” One of the report’s strongest passages referred to “intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.” Though no source was named, the language tracks almost exactly with the Israeli intelligence leaked to Channel 2 and Focus magazine.
It was August 30 when the report appeared. By this point, the question was not whether the US would bomb Syria, but how soon.
And then Obama blinked.
Iran blackmail, the coming campaign
Now that Obama has turned to Congress to authorize force against Syria, he is under relentless attack in Israel, with a chorus of pundits and politicians hammering him for his act of betrayal and cowardice in the face of evil. Amidst the din of condemnation, a talking point has emerged that will likely figure at the heart of Israel’s case to Congress and the American public this week.
The message was neatly summarized in the headline of a piece by the Likud-friendly correspondent Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post: “Weak world response on Syria boosts chance of strong Israeli action on Iran.” Referring to Obama’s decision and the British’ parliament’s vote against participating in a strike on Syria, Keinon wrote, “That kind of international dallying is not the type of behavior that will instill confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran.”
At Haaretz, Amos Harel reinforced the talking point in a piece of analysis that claimed “Arabs perceive Obama as weak” – but which cited absolutely zero Arabs. Running through a litany of examples of supposed American weakness, Harel concluded, “it’s no wonder that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming increasingly persuaded that no one will come to his aid if Iran suddenly announces that it is beginning to enrich uranium to 90 percent.”