Steinitz: Israel didn't ask for US help in Syria

Contrary to US media reports, Strategic Affairs minister says Israel did not pressure US to take military action against Syria.

Yuval Steinitz at JPost conference (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yuval Steinitz at JPost conference
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
NEW YORK – Assertions that Israel recently asked the US to take military action in Syria are “false,” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told attendees at the 2013 Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York on Sunday.
“We never asked and never encouraged the US to take military action in Syria,” Steinitz said, categorically denying reports in the American press that Jerusalem has been pressuring the Obama administration to escalate its involvement in the civil war.
Converging on Times Square, Israel’s political heavyweights voiced serious concern over reports that Syrian chemical weapons are being deployed two years into the country’s brutal civil war.
Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, echoing comments made to Post journalists throughout the last week, emphasized that Israel was not pressuring or even recommending that the US engage militarily in Syria, after the White House announced findings on Thursday that deadly sarin had likely been used there on at least two occasions.
The US has limited itself to providing nonlethal military and humanitarian aid to those fighting against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
“It is up to the US to decide its policy on Syria,” Steinitz elaborated. “Of course, we exchange views with the US about the situation [and] it’s a very complex and difficult issue.”
The AP reported on Sunday that Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz chided the Obama administration over its failure to intervene in the war-torn country due to the high number of civilians killed.
“We expect whoever defines red lines will also do what is needed, first and foremost the US and of course the entire international community,” Peretz was quoted as saying.
Steinitz took a hard line regarding Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Israel would “do its utmost to prevent delivery” of such weapons to “terrorists and Hezbollah,” he said.
Israeli officials last week accused Damascus of using chemical weapons.
After Steinitz’s speech, Oren also denied the American media reports, telling the Post that they were “categorically untrue.”
“We are not recommending, we are not pressuring [and] we are not urging the United States to take any specific action in Syria, with one exception,” he said. “If the United States does decide to provide lethal weaponry to the rebels, we would ask that the recipients of that aid be very closely vetted, because we have had bad experience with that.”
“Israel and the United States are sovereign countries, and whether it’s with Syria or Iran, each country has the right to determine how best to act and defend itself,” Oren said. “I think it’s important to point out that Israel has a different red line than the United States.
Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu has stated that Israel’s red line is any attempt by Syria to transfer chemical or other game-changing weapons to Hezbollah. That is our red line, and we stand by it.”
The ambassador reiterated, “The Syrian chemical weapons issue is very complex. All we have stated is that if a decision were to be made to provide weapons to rebels, those who receive them should be closely vetted.”
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
A frustrated Oren said that, for the past week, he had had to deal with “categorically untrue” reports from American outlets such as The New York Times and NBC News that Israel was encouraging action to demonstrate that strategic red lines held weight in Washington.
Steinitz also said that any linkage or comparison between Syria and Iran, which he termed the “main issue of our time,” was “wrong.”
Iran, he explained, was “totally different” from Syria as it was a “global and not just a Middle East or terror issue.”
According to the former finance minister, even though he “spent four years defending Israel from the ramifications of the global [economic] crisis,” the international recession was not as crucial as the “nuclearization of Iran.”
A nuclear Iran, he contended, would usher in a “different and dangerous world” and would be an “existential threat” not only to Israel but also a “terrible threat” to the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
“Iran is the problem No. 1 of our generation,” he said.
Steinitz recalled that many world leaders ignored Winston Churchill’s warnings about German rearmament before World War II. Israel’s situation was similar in important ways to that of Britain then, he said, “despite all the differences.”
In both cases, Steinitz asserted, people downplayed the threat due to a preoccupation with a grim economic situation.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
According to Steinitz, “if Iran gets the first few bombs, in a decade or so, they will have 100 nuclear bombs.” Sanctions were not enough to stop Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, he said.
“What is now necessary is to paint a very clear military threat, a credible threat that will make it crystal clear that they are paying something for nothing,” he said.
Asked if Israel could do more than merely delay Iran’s nuclear program with a unilateral strike, Steinitz said he did not want to get “into operational issues,” but that “Israel should be ready to defend itself by itself.”
Over a thousand people attended the Post’s second annual conference, where speakers who praised Israeli strength earned the loudest applause.
Perhaps the greatest applause was reserved for the Post’s Senior Contributing Editor Caroline Glick, who spoke of the challenges American Jews face in defending Israel against a fast-growing divestment campaign.