Israel sits in limbo while U.S. waits for congressional approval on Syria strike

By Alex Traiman/JNS.org

JERUSALEM—Israelis now sit in limbo as a U.S. strike on Syria—in response to Syria allegedly killing at least 1,429 of its own citizens with chemical weapons pending congressional approval—is on hold. Congress is not set to address the issue until it reconvenes from recess on Sept. 9.

Click photo to download. Caption: An Israeli woman shows her child how to put on a gas mask at a distribution center in Jerusalem on August 27, 2013. As talks of an international attack on Syria heighten, the demand for gas masks in Israel rose. Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.


Speaking in Jerusalem on Aug. 29, just more than 48 hours before President Barack Obama’s address on the issue, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) expressed confidence that military action will ultimately be taken. 

“We know there will be some response,” Reichert told JNS.org.

In a heavily awaited address to the American people from the White House lawn Saturday, Obama stated, “I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.”  

“We cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus,” he said.

“This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security,” the president added.

Yet Obama surprised many, reportedly including some of his own aides, by then deferring his executive powers to authorize a strike to the legislative branch. “I will seek authorization for the use of force from American representatives in Congress,” Obama said.

Israelis, meanwhile, now must wait while the U.S. decides if and when a strike will be ordered. On the one hand, a successful military strike on Syrian military targets could significantly weaken Israel’s northern neighbor, and take out what is widely believed to be one of the largest chemical weapon’s stockpiles in the world—weapons that could at some point be fired at Israel.

On the other hand, any U.S. strike could trigger a response on Israel that may send chemical weapons over the border on long-range missiles targeting Israeli population centers. Similarly, Hezbollah in Lebanon could begin launching rockets toward Tel Aviv.

Members of the Syrian and Iranian government have already signaled that any U.S. strike will be retaliated against first and foremost by strikes on Israel.

This past week, Israelis converged on makeshift gas mask distribution centers setup across the country.

“The risks of a U.S. strike on Israel are obvious,” Reichert, the Washington State congressman, told JNS.org.

Speaking to reporters during a tour of Israel’s topography and borders, which included meetings with security officials and entrepreneurs, Reichert warned that non-action, or incomplete action toward the Assad regime, may send a message to both Syria and Iran that the international community will not strongly punish belligerent state-sanctioned behavior.

“Whatever we do sends a message to Iran, and I am fearful that some actions may send a message to Iran of being indecisive, weak, and would embolden Iran in the coming months and years,” Reichert said.

Members of the international community have expressed strong disapproval with any plans to enlist a military intervention, despite more than 100,000 Syrians being killed in the past two years in the region’s deadliest civil war, and the reported use of chemical weapons that saw the deaths of at least 1,429 people, including women and children. 

The U.N. Security Council this past week rejected a British-submitted proposal to authorize an international force to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons. Similarly, Britain’s own parliament rejected a bill to approve British participation in any military campaign, leaving the U.S. as the sole proponent of a military strike.

International rejection of the use of military force may have been one of the key factors leading President Obama to seek Congressional approval for a U.S. strike.

“The current situation is confusing for everyone across the world,” Reichert said. “It’s also confusing for members of Congress, because a couple of days ago, the President said we’d be attacking with some effort that will occur between Thursday and Sunday.” 

Referring to public announcement of potential dates for the strike, that would signal the precise intentions of the U.S. military to Syrian President Assad, Reichert stated, “That doesn’t make any sense.”  

According to Reichert, several important questions must be raised to determine the need, scope and purpose of any military strike. “Is the purpose to remove President Assad from office? Is the purpose to then create some kind of a stable government? Is the purpose just to fire a shot across the bow, and what purpose does that serve?” Reichert said.

Zehava Gal-On, leader of the left-leaning Meretz party in Israel, appeared to push strongly for U.S. military intervention.

“The use of chemical weapons may finally be enough of an excuse for the US, but the ethical justification to act against Assad’s murders has existed for a long time,” Gal-On posted on Facebook.

“The international community must do everything possible to stop the ongoing mass killings of tens of thousands of innocents,” she wrote.

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Posted on September 1, 2013 and filed under News, Israel, World.