Notwithstanding unconfirmed claims by officials in Jerusalem, US President Barack Obama did not forewarn Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about his decision Saturday, Aug. 31, to abort the imminent military strike on Syria and turn the decision over to Congress. This is reported by debkafile’s intelligence and Washington sources. Neither did the US president offer Netanyahu any assurances that Syria was not Iran and the US president stood by his commitments on Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
Monday, Sept. 9, in the wake of the soft soap pouring out of Jerusalem, senior IDF circles were concerned by the unrealistic mood of the country on the eve of the New Year festival as though Israel and the US were fully coordinated on Syria and Hizballah and the danger of Syria repeating its chemical attack – this time on Israel – could be discounted.
The officers explained that the former close cooperation between US and Israel military chiefs was no longer a factor.
“It should be understood,” said a high-ranking source, “that the brakes applied suddenly Saturday night on a ready-to-go US strike against Syria was a watershed event in US-Israeli military relations and a game-changer for the Middle East at large”
President Obama’s shock action, at the very moment that four regional armies of Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were all at peak tension for the attack to begin, will leave a lasting scar on the region for years to come. The finger was about to pull the trigger when it was yanked off.”
Informed Israeli sources found confirmation for their concern in an article published in the Atlantic Council of Sept. 1 by Fred Hof, a close observer of the Bashar Assad persona and a veteran shaper of US policy on Syria.
He wrote: “The events of the past ten days suggest that there was no administration forethought to the possibility of a major chemical incident in Syria; there was no plan in place to respond to a major chemical attack by the regime.”
This view was echoed by the two Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham after they met the president Monday. They saw no coherent, “sustainable” plan of action against Assad other than a few missile strikes.
Those Israel sources found those impressions especially disquieting, coming as they did after nearly two years in which the US, Israel and Jordan had worked closely to prepare for the contingency of a large-scale chemical attack by the Assad regime.
During that time, Israel was persuaded by Washington to ignore 14 limited poison gas attacks in the outgoing year and suppress the information. But after the massive attack of Aug. 21 on the eastern outskirts of Damascus and the deaths of more than 1,400 Syrians, Israel is no longer willing to look away from the threat to its own national security just 100 kilometers away – especially since the Obama administration turned his back on the contingency plans prepared jointly for this event.
Monday, Sept. 2, a French government official cited an intelligence report showing there had been "massive use of chemical agents" in the attack coming on Aug. 21 from government-controlled areas "at a level of sophistication that can only belong to the regime."
debkafile’s Israeli sources add that since Obama stalled the US attack on Syria Saturday, the threats from Syria and Hizballah to attack Israel have gained momentum. They focus on the weeks taken up by congressional deliberations on US action. Those threats were at the front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mind Monday, when he phrased his New Year greeting to the country: “If anyone is contemplating harming us during the festival, he should know what awaits him,” he said.
IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz emphasized in his holiday message that Israel’s armed forces can be counted on to guard the nation against any danger.
This struck a quite different note from the anodyne assurances of close cooperation with Washington against the Syrian peril coming from his office earlier. It sounded more as though the prime minister had reason to believe that Israel and the IDF would very soon be called upon to ward off a fast-approaching peril.
Israel is not the only object of Syrian threats. In an interview published Monday by the French Le Figaro, Bashar Assad warned France it will be “an enemy of Syria” if it takes part in military intervention. Foreign military action could ignite a wider regional conflict, said the Syrian ruler. "Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread.”