Israel Intelligence Minister Gives Guarded Welcome to Syria Plan

Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz gave cautious support to Russia’s proposal for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, which has made the U.S. put any military action on hold.

“I cannot say we have complete faith, but if the Russian proposal will really remove the chemical weapons from Syria and then eliminate them, then this is a way to end this tragedy and this threat,” Steinitz said today in remarks broadcast on Army Radio. He added that Russia must provide guarantees to ensure all chemical weapons have been removed.

Steinitz joins other Israeli officials in a guarded assessment of the Russian plan, which led U.S. President Barack Obama to postpone his decision on a military strike against Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus.

Israel sees itself as a possible target for retaliation if the U.S. were to attack Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday linked the Syria situation to Iran, which is developing a nuclear program that Israel perceives as an existential threat, in defiance of U.S. and European sanctions.

“The message that Syria receives will be heard in Iran,” Netanyahu said, emphasizing Israel’s right to act in its own self-defense.

Netanyahu’s remarks “were a message to the U.S. of Israeli concerns that if ultimately there is no action against Syrian chemical weapons, Iran will draw the conclusion that it is immune to American military action,” said Gerald Steinberg, political scientist at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv.

Israeli officials and analysts have expressed doubt whether Syria can be trusted to decommission its chemical arsenal, and whether dismantling is even feasible in the midst of a civil war that according to United Nations estimates has claimed over 100,000 lives.

“Diplomacy is always preferable to war, but the main issue at present is integrity, and in particular the integrity of the Syrian regime,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said yesterday.

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