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NETANYAHU CONNECTS SYRIA WITH IRAN

 "The message that emerges on Syria will be grasped in Iran" - Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has indicated that the Iranian nuclear project is still Israel's major concern. Addressing a graduation ceremony for Israeli Navy cadets, Netanyahu hinted that Israel would not be dependent on the U.S. for its security: ‘In these days, probably more than ever, this is the rule that guides me mainly in my actions - 'If I am not for myself, who will be for me’. And he followed this Talmudic saying by adding that Israel would always be prepared to defend itself. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have steered clear of commenting on what course President Barack Obama should navigate on Syria. Netanyahu did say that an agreement must guarantee the Syrian regime will be disarmed of its chemical weapons and the world must make certain that whoever uses weapons of mass destruction will pay the price. 

Flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Within 24 hours, Reuters reported from Vienna that the US Ambassador to the IAEA has warned of 'troubling developments' in Iran's nuclear weapons project. Despite the election of President Hassan Rouhani, a so-called moderate, Iran is continuing to increase its nuclear capacity and there has been no progress in the talks to halting Iran's suspected atomic bomb research. US Ambassador Joseph Macmanus was quoted as saying: "We are hopeful the Rouhani administration will live up to its assurance of transparency and cooperation by taking concrete steps over the next several months". The next IAEA board meeting is slated for November.

It is fair to say Obama has emerged as a weak reed in the eyes of Syria and Iran.

However, while all the headlines were swirling around Assad's chemical weapons attack on August, Rouhani issued his own veiled warning. On one hand, the Iranian President warned that time was running out for a diplomatic solution, but on the other: "The Iranian government won’t give up one iota of its nuclear rights!" Apparently assuming that Obama will never order a military strike on Syria, the Iranian regime is bent on moving full steam ahead toward becoming, at the very least, what is termed a 'threshold nuclear weapons state'; that is acquiring enough enriched uranium, a weaponization program, and a ballistic missile that can deliver the nuclear warhead.

Syria crisis and Israel...

...Obama has given Assad...carte blanche to continue slaughtering more Syrian civilians. There is one condition; Assad must not kill them again with mustard, sarin, or VX gas!

So who blinked first? US President Barak Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, or Syria's President Bashar al-Assad? It is fair to say Obama has emerged as a weak reed in the eyes of Syria and Iran. Some commentators in Israel have also lambasted the US leader for zigzagging all over the place. First, he and Secretary Kerry warned there was a moral and strategic necessity to hold Assad to account and by military action. US Navy ships were deployed off the Syrian coast ready to launch cruise missiles into Syria. Israel mobilized some reserve personnel and battened down the hatches as many Israelis flocked to gas mask centers. But then, Obama slammed on the brakes - he had second thoughts and would first seek Congressional approval. American public opinion weighed in against launching a 'limited, no boots on the ground' attack on Syria. Obama was out on a limb and appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. Putin was delighted to step in and augment his international stature and prestige by coming up with a diplomatic solution. And yes, Assad would be more than happy to comply and for a number of reasons.

United Nations peacekeeper (photo credit: Mikhail Evstafiev)

The despot in Damascus will now get his wrists slapped and warned not to do it again. However, Obama has given Assad, with Russia's connivance, carte blanche to continue slaughtering more Syrian civilians. There is one condition; Assad must not kill them again with mustard, Sarin or VX gas! What has emerged is a French proposal to the UN Security Council aimed at destroying Assad's huge arsenal of chemical weapons. What are its prospects? 'Slim to none', in the opinion of Danny Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN. In an interview with Israel Radio, a despondent Gillerman said no one should expect the Security Council to produce anything really serious. After six years at the UN, Gillerman said the world body was no more than a body of vested interests and no better than its individual members. Anti-American sentiment runs high and there is a permanent automatic majority against Israel. 'We live in a cynical world and the UN has not lifted a finger to stop Assad's genocide of over 100,000 of his own people'. So look for Russia and China to stonewall and water down the French proposal that includes a military sanction, if Assad does not comply fully. Even if a proposal is eventually passed, how will UN inspectors manage to visit numerous chemical weapons sites amid the civil war now raging across Syria? One estimate is that 70,000 UN troops would be needed to protect them! On the other hand, Putin's proposal to find a diplomatic solution is a ploy to shore up Assad. Consider this, the experts say it will take years to find and neutralize Assad's chemical weapons arsenals and cost several hundred million dollars. In addition, if the UN inspectors are about to go traipsing all over Syria to find Assad's chemical weapons sites, there is a small problem - the ongoing civil war. Surely it would require that the hostilities be frozen in place. This is a godsend for Assad and a blow to the rebels. The international community, that is the UN, will recognize the Assad regime as a legitimate partner despite its numerous crimes against humanity. Not that the rebel cohorts, which include al Qaeda and other Islamist fundamentalists, have not committed their own atrocities against Syrian Army prisoners. Rebel leaders have criticized Obama's backing away from a military strike warning that Assad is literally getting away with murder and will lie and cheat over the chemical weapons. Moreover if there is a halt to the fighting, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah will resupply Assad's forces with even more weaponry while the West - have supplied precious little to the rebels. 

'Beginning of end of rebellion'... 

If Zisser's assessment proves to be true, Assad's use of chemical weapons has actually resulted in strengthening his ability to remain in power.

Professor Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University is a leading expert on Syria and he believes it's now all over for the rebels. After hearing President Obama's speech to the American people, Zisser declared: 'This day marks the end of the rebellion in Syria against the Assad regime'. If Zisser's assessment proves to be true, Assad's use of chemical weapons has actually resulted in strengthening his ability to remain in power. Is it any wonder that Syria and its ally Iran have welcomed Obama's diplomatic gambit that was instigated by Russia. 

Israeli lessons...

Netanyahu has just indicated that if the situation arises he will not wait until Obama decides whether to go back again to the US Congress or appeal to Putin for a diplomatic solution.

President Shimon Peres has warned that Assad cannot be trusted to abide by any future agreement on chemical weapons disarmament. But Peres was confident that Israel could count on President Obama. The problem is that Israeli and American vital interests don't always coincide. Israeli public opinion would have supported a swift and punishing American blow to the Assad regime for gassing civilians to death. This would have sent a no-nonsense warning to the ayatollahs in Tehran. But it might also be argued that it is preferable that the US does not get bogged down with a strike on Syria that could affect its readiness to take on Iran. But Israel and America are running on different nuclear calendars. According to US intelligence, Iran will need at least until 2015 before it can develop ballistic missiles that can reach the Atlantic Seaboard of the U.S. In other words, Iran is still not a clear and present danger to the US. (Although this ignores the danger of the Iranians giving terrorists a 'dirty bomb' in a suitcase or hiding one on a container ship that docks in an American port.)  But Iran already has Shahab missiles that can reach Israel with nuclear warheads. Netanyahu has just indicated that if the situation arises he will not wait until Obama decides whether to go back again to the US Congress or appeal to Putin for a diplomatic solution. In other words, if Israel detects that Iran begins its breakout for the Bomb, Netanyahu could possibly inform Obama and then give the order. 

Iran & Yom Kippur War...

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz salutes Yom Kippur War heros at an official annual memorial service for fallen soldiers. (Photo by Sgt. Ori Shifrin, IDF Spokesperson Unit)
An untold number of Israeli soldiers were killed and wounded by not preempting, for fear of annoying the Nixon administration. It is unlikely that Israel will repeat that scenario when it comes to Iran going nuclear.

Israel has been marking forty years to the Yom Kippur War and its failure to act in time, although there were many indicators that the Egyptian and Syrian armies were about to launch a massive surprise attack on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. When it became clear that the war was to begin in just hours, IDF Chief of Staff David Elezar called on Prime Minister Golda Meir to approve a preemptive Israeli air strike that could have inflicted massive damage on the advancing enemy. However, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan opposed it, contending the US would blame Israel for starting the war. It was Golda's call and she sided with Dayan. An untold number of Israeli soldiers were killed and wounded by not preempting, for fear of annoying the Nixon administration. It is unlikely that Israel will repeat that scenario when it comes to Iran going nuclear. 

David Essing

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