Weak world response on Syria boosts chance of strong Israeli action on Iran

This will not instill confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran and its nuclear capabilities.

September 1, 2013 07:35
4 minute read.
Free Syrian Army fighter watching Obama speech on Syria, August 31, 2013.

Free Syrian Army fighter watching Obama speech 370. (photo credit: Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters)

The question US President Barack Obama posed Saturday in his dramatic statement from the White House lawn was a profound one: "What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?"

"If we  won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental intentional  rules, to governments who would chose to build nuclear arms, to terrorists who would spread biological weapons, to armies who carry out genocide?" the president asked.  

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on multiple occasions last week that Syria was Iran's "testing ground."

Iran, he said and Obama implied, was watching carefully to see how the world would respond to its client state's use of chemical weapons.

Will there be massive rhetorical outrage followed by determined military action by the entire world? Will there be immediate military action?  Will there be massive rhetorical outrage followed by limited action by the US? How limited will the action be? Will the pain be bearable?

But the Iranians are not the only ones watching.  So is Israel.  Whether or not Israel decides to act against Iran could be determined in large part by how the world acts now against Syria.  And the British parliament's vote Thursday against military action is not a great sign.

"The international stuttering and hesitancy on [a] Syria [strike], just proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself,"  Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on his Facebook page on Friday. "From Munich 1938 to Damascus 2013 nothing has changed. This is the lesson we ought to learn from the events in Syria."

And Bennett's post came even before Obama's address in which he said that the US would conduct a limited military action against Syria, but only if Congress approved it when it came back from its summer recess on September 9.  

"Trust us," the world – led by the US -- has urged Israel for years on Iran.  "We will deal with Iran, we will not allow them to get nuclear weapons. Even if they do, there is little chance they will use them. Nobody is that crazy."

Really? Syrian President Bashar Assad is that crazy, using chemical weapons in broad daylight against his own people, even though he knew he would be held culpable.

Yet the world dithers.

The French speak tough, the British back down completely, and Obama says he will take limited action if Congress approves when it comes back from summer vacation.

The Iranians, watching this show, are surely calculating what action they could expect if they run at full speed to nuclear capability.  One could not blame them for concluding that the French will speak tough, the British will vote military action down in parliament. and Obama will bring the matter to Congress for a vote if Congress is in session. If not, he will wait patiently until Congress re-convenes to ask its opinion.

That kind of international dallying is not the type of behavior that will instill confidence in Israeli leaders that they can count on the world when it comes to Iran.

Besides, if this is how the world acts when some 1,429 people are gassed, how should we expect them to act if Iran just crosses the nuclear threshold, but doesn't kill anybody yet?

If gassing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, as US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday, does not lead to a military assault, will the crossing of the nuclear threshold – when no one is killed – trigger a response?

The Iranians are carefully watching the world's response to the Syrian atrocities.  If the response is not harsh enough, or swift enough, or serious enough, they may very well conclude that they would face a similar type of situation and read that as a green light to proceed with their nuclear program at full throttle speed.  

The Israelis are also watching the world reaction. And Israel, too, may very well conclude that if the world's response is not harsh enough, or swift enough, or serious enough, then they too will feel that they have a green light to take action to stop the Iranians.

The lack of a strong international response in the face of rows and rows of gassed bodies wrapped eerily in white shrouds just 220 kilometers from Jerusalem might not compel Israel to take action against Assad, but it surely may compel it to think twice about relying on the world to rid it of the Iranian nuclear menace.

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