A Gift for the Jewish New Year? Syria Swears It Really Will Give Up its Chemical Weapons — Israel Kept Fully Informed by U.S.

Now that the ten days from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur are over — and the Jewish year 5774 has begun — one could certainly argue that Israel has received a gift: Syria is on the way to giving up its chemical weapons.

In the balance of forces and fear of the Middle East, we are witnessing a clear gain for Israel: A significant enemy will no longer have the large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction — that were amassed, clearly, to balance Israel’s nuclear bombs — and Israel has not had to give up anything.

John Kerry & Benjamin Netanyahu

The longer term consequences of the deal remain still to be debated and observed. Perhaps the U.S. will back away from plans to arm anti-Bashar Assad rebels, and Syria’s dictator is more likely to hang on to power. Perhaps that would be bad for Israel, although there are Israeli strategists who argue both sides of that question.

Perhaps the Middle East generally thinks that Barack Obama didn’t have the courage — or the militarily aggressive nature — to order missile strikes on Syria.  So perhaps Iran will never take Obama’s threats seriously.

Yes, “perhaps” and “maybe” are hesitant adverbs that mark the Syria chemical-weapons crisis.

Yet Israel cannot complain that U.S. diplomats left it in the dark. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, was in Jerusalem on Sunday to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The official reason for their conversation, a bit behind schedule (after Kerry recently spoke in Europe with the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas) was to review progress and problems — so far — in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must have wondered, too, if the rumors are true about the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. Some reports, fanned by Iran’s Islamic government, suggest that the newly elected president Hasan Rouhani will have talks with President Obama at the U.N.

That would be an astounding breakthrough, putting some flesh on the bones of Obama’s offer — back in 2009 — to improve relations with Iran by “engaging” with its government.

Certainly such talks would raise hopes for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran. However, it is unlikely that Israel would be satisfied with any arrangement that falls short of Iran handing over all of its potential nuclear bomb fuel — a Syria-style surrender.

Some of the themes running in the background were suggested in Netanyahu’s public remarks, standing with Kerry after their Jerusalem talks on Sunday (Sept. 15):

“We have been closely following – and support – your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer.

The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them.

The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran. Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community, by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons.

What the past few days have shown is something that I have been saying for quite some time, that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Syria is true of Iran, and, by the way, vice versa.

John, I appreciate the opportunity we’ve had to discuss at some length our quest for peace with the Palestinians and the ongoing talks. We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we have embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”

September 15, 2013

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