The threat of force against Syria remains “on the table” and “is real,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday after briefing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the US-Russia framework accord to remove Syria’s chemical weapons.
“Diplomacy has been the preferred path for the president of the United States, and I think it is any peace-loving nation’s choice,” Kerry said, speaking briefly to reporters in Jerusalem after a meeting that went on for more than three hours. “But make no mistake, we have taken no option off the table. President [Barack] Obama has been absolutely clear about the remainder of the potential use of force if there is not compliance or a refusal to take part.”
Netanyahu, who said Israel was following the developments closely and supported America’s efforts, added that the situation has showed “something that I have been saying for quite some time: that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Syria is true of Iran and, by the way, vice-versa.”
Kerry, who said both he and Netanyahu were “cleareyed” when looking at the region, said that if the agreement was implemented, “we will have set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect for Iran and with respect to North Korea and any other rogue state or group that decides to reach for these kinds of weapons.”
Kerry acknowledged that the agreement would “only be as effective as its implementation.”
Obama, he said, “has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains. The threat of force is real, and the Assad regime and all those taking part need to understand that President Obama and the US are committed to achieving this goal.
We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs, because that affects as well other regions, whether Iran, North Korea or any other.”
Shortly before the meeting,Netanyahu enunciated Israel’s cautious the-proof-is-in-thepudding position on the USRussian Geneva agreement at the government’s memorial ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem marking the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
“We hope that the understandings that have been achieved between the US and Russia regarding Syria’s chemical weapons will show results, and indeed, these understandings will be tested by results – the full destruction of the stocks of chemical weapons that the Syrian regime has used against its own people,” he said.
The prime minister linked this agreement with the diplomatic efforts under way to stop Iran from achieving diplomatic weapons, saying that there, too, the test of the world’s diplomatic efforts would be whether they stopped Iran’s nuclear armament.
“Here as well, it is not words that will be decisive but rather actions and results,” he said.
In any case, Netanyahu said, “Israel must be prepared and ready to defend itself by itself against any threat. Today, this ability and this willingness are more important than ever.”
Netanyahu noted that Israel’s strategic environment has changed dramatically in the 40 years since the Yom Kippur War, and that since then Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and was “trying to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
“That would not have happened without our neighbors’ knowledge that we could not be defeated on the battlefield,” he said. “We are now in a new era, in the middle of a regional earthquake unprecedented since the establishment of the state. We are facing new challenges: missiles, cyber [warfare] and weapons of mass destruction.”
Netanyahu, who flew back from university studies in the US in 1973 to join his IDF unit during the war, quoted from his brother Yoni’s letter to his parents praising the will and determination of the country in time of crisis.
“Don’t forget, the strength, the justice and determination are with us, and that is a lot,” Netanyahu said, quoting his brother, who commanded the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) and died in the Entebbe rescue mission in 1976.
The country’s resilience proved itself then, and is needed every day, including today, he said. “But that is not enough. The responsibility of the leadership is to be wise, not led by illusions or vain hopes. It must see the complete strategic map. It must always be prepared in time.
Sometimes it needs to make the difficult choice between bad and worse, and it must ensure the existence of the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu said Israel’s existence was not only based on the country’s defensive abilities but also its offensive capabilities and the enemies’ knowledge that “the price that will be extracted for aggression against us will be too heavy to bear. That is the true base of our deterrence, and in the final analysis it is the true basis of our existence.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who like Netanyahu fought in the Yom Kippur War, also weighed in on the Syria chemical weapons deal and echoed Netanyahu’s comment that the test of the agreement would be in its implementation.
“We hope there will be a fulfillment of the intention to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons cache,” he said.
Ya’alon also called on the world to show determination vis-à-vis Iran, which he described as an ambitious, violent and extremist regime that was moving forward with its program to develop nuclear arms and continued to be involved in every conflict in the region through the training, funding and supporting of terrorists.
During the ceremony, President Shimon Peres expressed words mixed with sorrow and hope, devoting a large portion of his remarks to Syria and comparing it negatively to Egypt.
The Yom Kippur War was a turning point in Israel’s relations with its neighbors, he said, bringing in its wake the peace treaty with Egypt, laying the groundwork for a future peace accord with the Palestinians and resulting in a peace agreement with Jordan.
“Our neighbors learned that warring with Israel ends in disappointment,” he said. “Peace is the true victory.”
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat surprised Israel twice, Peres recalled – first, when he waged war against Israel; and second, when he came to Jerusalem to make peace.
“The military surprise turned into a political surprise.”
Syria, which was Egypt’s ally in the Yom Kippur War, refused to be a partner to peace, and had been penalized for maintaining this attitude to the present day, said Peres.
He said that while Sadat brought peace to his people, Syria’s President Bashar Assad has brought only tragedy to his country, which was divided and where the blood of its citizens was being spilled like water.
His efforts to develop a nuclear option failed, Peres said, and now not only the Americans but also the Russians want to see him stripped of his chemical weapons arsenal.
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