PM implores ministers not to speak about Obama's decision on Syria

Report: White House informed Israel in advance to mute criticism.

Netanyahu cabinet 1.9.13 (photo credit: Emil Salman / Pool)
Netanyahu cabinet 1.9.13
(photo credit: Emil Salman / Pool)
The White House informed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in advance of US President Barack Obama’s decision to delay military action against Syria until after receiving Congressional approval, Channel 2 reported Sunday evening.
According to the report, which was not sourced, the advanced warning was given to curb Israeli criticism. The Prime Minister’s Office would not confirm the story.
If the prior notice of what Obama intended to say in his speech from the White House was meant to mute Israeli criticism, it did a good job.
With the exception of Bayit Yehudi Ministers Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel, who criticized the US policy on Syria in Facebook posts and – in the case of Ariel – in an Army Radio interview, all other ministers remained completely silent about the situation in Syria.
Netanyahu, at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting where both he and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon briefed the ministers on Syria, said that the situation was still developing.
“There are sensitive and delicate issues here,” Netanyahu told his ministers.
“We are managing the situation carefully and responsibly. There is no room for private comments.”
Netanyahu said the management of the crisis was characterized by “strict, central management,” which he said was the way “responsible” governments operated.
“I ask you to continue to act responsibly,” he said. “I ask you to refrain from acting carelessly and irresponsibly toward our ally in order to get a momentary headline.”
Netanyahu said the ministers’ continued “responsible” behavior was “important for the security of all Israeli citizens.”
Israel, he said, would continue to defend itself and “preserve its strategic relationships.”
In an apparent reference to Bennett and Ariel, he said, “You were elected to serve Israeli citizens from inside the government, and these types of comments do not serve Israel’s citizens.”
Ariel, the construction and housing minister, wrote on his Facebook page after Obama’s speech that in Tehran “they were opening the champagne bottles and are certainly shifting up gear on the way to nuclear weapons.”
Ariel said it was delusional for anyone to think that Obama would attack Iran just on the basis of passing a redline.
“With the world silent toward the atrocities in Syria, toward 100,000 testimonies buried in the ground, and after the clear use of weapons of mass destruction, we learn that when the day comes when we face real danger, no one in the world will stand at our side, and we can only defend ourselves,” he wrote.
He articulated similar sentiments in an Army Radio interview just prior to the cabinet meeting.
Bennett, on Friday before Obama’s speech, wrote on his Facebook page, “The international stuttering and hesitancy on [a] Syria [strike] just proves once more that Israel cannot count on anyone but itself. From Munich 1938 to Damascus 2013 nothing has changed. This is the lesson we ought to learn from the events in Syria.”
Following Obama’s speech, he wrote that what he posted a day earlier “was more correct now then ever. There is an iron-clad rule for the Jewish people: If I am not for me, who will be.”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said on camera before the cabinet meeting – in his first public comments since Obama’s announcement Saturday – that Israel was “calm and confident in itself.”
“The citizens of Israel know very well that we are prepared for any possible scenario,” he said, without mentioning Syria or referring directly to Obama’s statement. “Israel’s citizens also need to know that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our strength – and they know why.”
Over the last week Netanyahu, Ya’alon, and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz have repeatedly said that Israel was not involved in the Syrian civil war, but would respond “fiercely” if attacked.