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Netanyahu Says Israel Ready as Obama Syria Stance Criticized

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s foes have “very good reasons” not to test its strength, as a member of his cabinet said the U.S. delay in striking Syria bodes ill for action against Iran.

President Barack Obama announced yesterday in Washington he will first seek congressional approval before ordering a military strike in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against a rebel-held area outside Damascus on Aug. 21. His decision pushed back any action -- and possible retaliation by Syria or its allies against Israel -- by at least a week.

“The citizens of Israel know well we are prepared for any possible scenario,” Netanyahu said at the cabinet’s weekly meeting in Jerusalem today, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. “Israeli citizens also need to know that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our strength and might -- and they know why.”

Israel, sitting on Syria’s southern border and a longtime foe, would be a potential target for retribution if the U.S. does attack Syria.

Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel criticized the U.S. delay, saying that failing to act now against Syria will also undermine confidence in Obama’s declared resolve to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

‘Bottles of Champagne’

“In Tehran they are opening bottles of champagne, and surely shifting into high gear toward nuclear weaponization,” Ariel said in a post on his Facebook page. “Anyone who now believes this president will strike Iran only on evidence that the Iranians have crossed a nuclear red line, is probably hallucinating,” Ariel said. His post defied Netanyahu’s order to ministers to stop commenting on U.S. policy toward Syria.

Israel’s Army Radio and parliament’s Knesset TV Channel quoted unidentified officials in Jerusalem today echoing Ariel’s criticism, saying Obama’s move made it more probable Israel would eventually have to act alone against Iran’s nuclear program.

“Until there is a significant U.S. response that will deter further Syrian use of chemical weapons, Israel will see this as a reflection of American impotence,” Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv, said by phone.

Results of an Aug. 27-28 survey published today show 54 percent of Jewish Israelis think America’s status as a key player in the Middle East would be strengthened by an attack on Syria, while 21 percent said it would not be affected. Fourteen percent said it would be diminished.

U.S. Standing

Among Arab Israelis, 34 percent said an attack would hurt America’s standing in the region, and 26 percent said it would be strengthened. The survey of 601 Israelis was carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

While Israel and the U.S. both dispute Iran’s assertions that its nuclear program is designed solely to produce energy and medical isotopes, they have disagreed over how to deal with it. Obama has pressed Netanyahu to hold off on a military strike, declaring repeatedly that the U.S. would use force, if necessary, to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

At the United Nations last September, Netanyahu predicted that by the summer of 2013, Iran would have “moved on to the final stage” of building a bomb.

Israelis, meanwhile, continued to flock to distribution centers today to pick up government-issued gas masks, with lines forming before dawn, Channel 2 television reported. The military bolstered defenses in the north last week, calling up reservists in the air force and home front command, and deploying missile defense systems.

Israel’s benchmark government bonds rose today, pushing the yield down to a one-week low. The yield on the benchmark 4.25 percent notes due March 2023 declined four basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 3.97 percent at 3:11 p.m. in Tel Aviv. The yield jumped 26 basis points last month, the biggest increase since the notes started trading in August 2012.

To contact the reporter on this story: Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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