Oren: Israel helped Obama avoid bombing Syria after chemical attack

US senior official denies Oren's account of events, says Obama and Putin discussed disarmament well before August 2013.

June 16, 2015 09:20
2 minute read.

Employees of the Research Institute for Protective Technologies, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection (WIS) inspect a dummy sample which is contaminated with a substance similar to the chemical weapon Sarin.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Israel's former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, writes in his new memoir that Israel provided the clandestine diplomacy that helped US President Barack Obama avoid shelling Syria after Damascus had violated the President's "red line," when it was discovered the Syrian Army had used chemical weapons against rebel fighters in August 2013.

Oren's book, titled Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israel Divide, discloses for the first time that in late August and early September 2013, Israel's then-intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, floated a plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons to the Russian government and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received Obama's blessing to move forward with the proposal, according to Bloomberg.

"The idea originated with an Israeli minister, Yuval Steinitz, who first pitched it to the Russians, who were eager to avoid an American intercession that they could not stop. Netanyahu next brought it to Obama and received a green light," the former envoy to the US and current MK for Kulanu revealed.

However, one senior US official told Bloomberg Sunday that he had a different recollection of the diplomacy. The official said Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, had discussed disarming Syria's chemical weapons long before August 2013. But the US side never thought Russia was serious. This official did confirm that the Israelis quietly supported the disarmament plan and that Netanyahu discussed it with Obama, but disputed that Israel was the author of the plan, Bloomberg noted.

Russia and the United States brokered a deal in September 2013 to put Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical arms stockpiles under international control to avoid possible US military strikes that Washington said would be intended to punish him over a suspected gas attack which killed hundreds of people in August of that year.

Oren also remarked that Israel's role was never publicly acknowledged, writing "In subsequent interviews, Obama rarely missed the chance to cite the neutralization of Syria’s chemical capabilities as an historic diplomatic achievement. Russian president Vladimir Putin also took credit for the initiative and praised this 'vivid example of how the international community can solve the most complex disarmament and non- proliferation task.' Israel’s role remained unmentioned, but its citizens were relieved not to have to sign up for more gas masks."

Oren served as ambassador to the US from 2009 to 2013.

Herb Kenion and Reuters contributed to this article.

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