'Region not on hold while Israel forms government'

The Iranian nuclear threat, risk of Syrian chemical arms "do not stop while we form our coalition," Netanyahu warns.

January 27, 2013 12:22
3 minute read.
PM Netanyahu at cabinet meeting

Netanyahu370 (2013). (photo credit: Pool/ Emil Salman)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his senior ministers and top IDF and security officials to discuss Syria. The group met amid heightened concern that the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons may fall into the hands of Hezbollah, or other terrorist organizations.

That these high-level meetings are taking place even as Netanyahu is busy with informal coalition negotiations and is the head of a lameduck government, only underlines the urgency of the situation.

The developments in the region did not wait for the election results and “will not stop during the formation of the government,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. He said that Israel must look carefully at what is happening “with the deadly weapons in Syria, which is increasingly coming apart.”

One government adviser, however, said Netanyahu might have a secondary interest in playing up security threats now, in order to help him quickly put together a coalition given the setbacks Likud Beytenu suffered in last week’s elections. According to this reasoning, playing up the security threats will increase a sense of urgency among the potential coalition partners in finishing the coalition building process as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, the adviser said, “Syria is a serious business, and the people dealing with it in Israel are serious.”

Citing International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was commemorated on Sunday, Netanyahu told the cabinet that Israel does not “make light” of threats “to destroy the state of the Jews.” The primary mission of the government is to thwart those threats, he said.

“What has changed [since the Holocaust] is the ability of the Jews to defend themselves.

This ability finds expression in the state, the military and the security services, and in our willingness to act against those who come to destroy us,” he said.

“This ability is the difference between what was then and what there is today.

Nobody will defend the Jews if they are not ready to defend themselves; this is another lesson of the Holocaust. It is impossible to rely on separate and independent action to defend the Jews if the Jews will not defend themselves.”

Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting that in addition to the threats from Syria and Iran, “in the east, north and south, everything is in ferment and we must be prepared.

To this end, I would like to form the broadest and most stable government as possible in order – first of all – to meet the significant security threats that face the State of Israel, and I am convinced of our ability to deal with these threats.”

Meanwhile, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom told reporters at the outset of the cabinet meeting that the “countries of the free world” agree that it is necessary to prevent the “leakage of chemical weapons” to extremist organizations.

Shalom told Army Radio that these weapons in the hands of Hezbollah or the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad “would dramatically change the capabilities of those organizations.”

Interviewed separately by Army Radio, Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter said Syria was “on the verge of collapse.”

But asked whether Israel perceived an imminent threat, Dichter said: “No, not yet. I suppose that when things pose a danger to us, the State of Israel will know about it.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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