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Peres Defends Obama’s Syria Delay After Israeli Criticism

Israel’s President Shimon Peres
Israel’s President Shimon Peres said, "I’m confident the U.S. will respond against Syria.” Photographer: Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli President Shimon Peres defended U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval to strike Syria, after officials criticized the move as undermining the image of American resolve.

“I’m confident the U.S. will respond against Syria,” Peres said today in an interview on Army Radio. “I don’t think sound judgment is indecisiveness; I think it’s permitted to carefully consider a decision beforehand rather than after, and I trust him on anything connected to Israel.”

Obama announced on Aug. 31 that he will seek congressional backing before ordering military action in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21. His decision pushed back any action -- and possible retaliation by Syria or its allies against Israel -- by at least a week.

Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel criticized Obama’s move, saying it weakens confidence in the U.S. administration’s resolve on other issues, such as preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel’s Army Radio and parliament’s Knesset TV Channel quoted unidentified officials in Jerusalem as saying U.S. hesitation made it more probable Israel would eventually have to act alone against Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refrained from commenting on the U.S. delay, stressing instead his country’s ability to defend itself against possible retaliation following action in Syria.

‘Confident’ Israel

“Our country is confident in the strength of its military, confident in its own power, because it knows it can defend itself,” Netanyahu said today, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. He urged Israelis to get out and enjoy the Jewish holidays beginning Wednesday, and said any enemy who tries to disturb them “knows what awaits it.”

Iranian officials have warned that any U.S. attack on its ally Syria could result in retaliation against Israel. During the past week Israelis have been streaming to official distribution centers for gas masks.

“In the past two weeks, the deadly and tragic events in Syria more forcefully illustrate the necessity of the Israel Defense Forces to maintain a high level of preparedness and capability for all operations that were, or will be,” Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio.

Notice Promised

The U.S. has promised to give Israel notice before any military action against Syria, Israel’s Channel 2 television said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he opposes U.S. military action against Syria. “Our position is that we do not support a strike, of course, we do not accept bombing an Arab country from the outside, but we condemn the use of chemical weapons and want a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis,” he said in a statement posted on the official Palestinian Wafa news website.

While Israel and the U.S. both dispute Iran’s assertions that its nuclear program is designed solely for civilian purposes, 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 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.

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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