Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the Jewish state was prepared for “every possible scenario” in neighbouring Syria after US President Barack Obama postponed a threatened missile strike.
“Israel is calm and sure of itself, the citizens of Israel know that we are prepared for every possible scenario,” he told ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, in remarks broadcast on public radio.
Obama had promised to act against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons, but on Saturday announced that he would first seek endorsement from Congress, effectively pushing any military action back until at least September 9, when US lawmakers return from their summer recess.
Netanyahu sought to calm domestic fears that a US-led attack on Syria could prompt Assad or his Lebanese allies Hezbollah to retaliate against neighbouring Israel, Washington’s key ally in the region.
“Our enemies have very good reasons not to try our strength, not to test our power,” he said. “They know why.”
Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres have both insisted that Israel is not involved in the bloody conflict in Syria, in which over 100,000 people have been killed, but will respond if attacked.
Neither Netanyahu nor his senior cabinet colleagues referred directly to Obama’s surprise announcement, but Housing Minister Uri Ariel, of the far-right Jewish Home party, had advice for Washington regarding Assad.
“This is a murdering coward,” he told army radio. “Take care of him.”
Local newspapers were generally critical of what they saw as the slow pace of Obama’s response to the gas attacks.
“Where was the United States when more than 100,000 people, for more than two and a half years, were killed in attacks using conventional weapons? Do they care which weapons were used to kill them?” asked the left-leaning Haaretz in an editorial.
“Looking out at the world is the picture of the American president as a frightened, alarmed politician, paralysed by the fact of being a Nobel peace laureate,” wrote commentator Avraham Ben-Zvi in Israel Hayom, the top circulation daily considered close to Netanyahu.
“Senior Israeli officials said they believed that no matter how things developed going forward, the Americans had already lost their momentum, and any attack that would now be staged now would not be effective,” Yediot Aharonot, another Israeli daily, reported.
“Assad is sitting and rubbing his hands together gleefully, and the Iranians are laughing their way to the nuclear bomb.”
Israel, which has the Middle East’s sole, albeit undeclared, nuclear arsenal, regards key Damascus ally Iran as its deadly foe.
Along with the West, Israel suspects the Islamic republic of trying to develop atomic weapons under the guise of its nuclear programme, a claim Tehran denies.