The change of tone in four days was striking. Sunday, Sept. 8, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu confided to his close circle that President Barack Obama’s sudden turn against a military strike on Syria’s chemical weapons was the right thing to do. He considered the removal of Bashar Assad’s chemical arsenal to international control, as agreed between Washington and Moscow, preferable to the ineffectual, limited strike by a small number of missiles, which Obama was contemplating.
Wednesday, Sept. 12, a different Netanyahu, stressed and red-eyed from apparent lack of sleep appeared at the graduation ceremony of a course of naval commanders. In his speech, he called up age-old Jewish wisdom when he paraphrased the first half of an adage from the Mishnah. “If we don’t help ourselves, who will help us? (Im ain ani li me li?), he thundered.
But he left out the highly pertinent continuation of the saying, which any Israeli could recite for him: Loosely translated, it is: If I only help myself, who am I? And if I don’t act today, then when?
Netanyahu was showing signs of shock which had apparently come from the realization that he had wasted four years following the wrong policy and was now bankrupt.
Although elected twice on a pledge to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he never followed through, preferring to follow President Obama’s lead and hold back from a proactive policy against a nuclear Iran. His pretext was that Iranian threat was shared by the whole world and it was up to the international community to deal with it.
His policy on Syria will come to roost in Tehran
During his watch, Tehran attained the ability to assemble a nuclear bomb, held back from going all the way by nothing more than a word from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The prime minister has said the ayatollah is deterred by fear of an Israeli attack.
However, there is no certainty that he was. Iran may already have built one or more bombs and hidden them at secret military facilities. Tehran knows by now that it has nothing to fear from military action. Under the rule of Barack Obama, America will not take military action against is nuclear facilities; neither will Israel chance it without Washington’s approval.
In the final reckoning, neither Obama nor Netanyahu prevented Iran becoming a nuclear power.
Israel’s Syria policy in the two and-a-half years of its civil war has been fraught with intelligence and strategic blunders, such as -.
1. Its intelligence and military strategists consistently misread Assad’s ability to survive the uprising against him. Assuming his days were numbered in weeks, they were caught unawares when the tide of war turned in his favor in the spring of 2013.
2. Israel refrained from stepping in to interrupt the wholesale intervention of Iranian and Hizballah military forces in the Syrian conflict, turning a blind eye to the hostile military buildup on its borders. The argument then was that the war would sap the strength of those forces and weaken the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis.
This argument was proven wrong. The axis has emerged from the long, bloody Syrian war much strengthened.
Syrian chemical weapons mistakenly consigned to Russia care last year
The Iran-led bloc’s enhanced self-confidence was reflected in an article by Ibrahim al-Amin, a close friend of Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah, in the Beirut-based Al Akhbar daily.
“No one needs to tell Syria’s allies that Washington no longer possesses complete freedom to do as it pleases,” he writes, “particularly compared to a decade or so ago, before getting bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They also know that America’s recent setbacks have produced a regional and international opposition alliance that brings together powerful forces that continue to grow by the day.”
According to Al-Amin, “This opposition alliance operates on a number of levels: Russia playing a diplomatic role, while Iran is prepared to take the lead militarily, if it comes to a regional confrontation with the US.”
He concludes: “Tehran is not only capable of facing down Washington in Syria and the surrounding region, but it has the ability to cause them serious harm. In two short weeks, this alliance succeeded in mobilizing a broad front that is prepared tot engage in an extended war that could last for months or more.”
3. Israel slipped up badly in its handling of Syria’s chemical stockpiles, no less than Washington.
They made their first mistake in passing the hot potato to Moscow 10 months ago.
In December 2012, the Obama administration accepted a Russian proposal to ascertain that the Assad regime consigned its chemical stockpiles to three central depots under Russian military oversight.
Then on Dec. 22 of that year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that the Syrian government had concentrated its chemical and biological weapons in “one or two places,” where they could be guarded against rebel attack.
Lavrov further explained: Russian military instructors training the Syrian army maintained a close watch on the chemical depots.”
Obama will dump US allies for a deal with Tehran
The massacre of Syrian civilians by poison gas on the eastern outskirt of Damascus on Aug. 21 proved how horribly Washington and Jerusalem had erred by relying on Russia’s “close watch.”
The Obama and Netanyahu administrations are making the same mistake again – only by now the Syrian chemical peril has magnified many times over. And worse still, it is obvious to all the American, Israeli, European, Russian and Iranian players concerned that an accommodation for the Syrian chemical issue will lead straight to direct US-Iranian dialogue for a settlement of the Iranian nuclear controversy, on terms beyond Tehran’s wildest dreams a year ago.
If the Israeli prime minister has sleepless nights, it is because he has finally grasped that just as the American president was willing to throw the Syrian rebels to the wolves and turn his back on his Israeli and Turkish allies for the sake of deal with Moscow, he will have as few qualms when he faces Tehran.
Indeed, Obama’s ambition to gradually bring Iranian nuclear weapons under international control, like Syria’s chemical arsenal, won’t end in Tehran and Damascus. His next target will be the weapons of mass destruction reputedly held by Israel.
Netanyahu has suddenly woken up to the worry that he will soon find Israel’s WMD is under US threat, instead of the Iranian nuclear program.