After a week of indecision, the U.S. administration has accepted the public assertion of Israeli intelligence sources that chemical weapons have been used by elements in President Bashar Assad's regime against civilians in Syria. Ostensibly, the credibility of Israel's Military Intelligence division has been proven. The question still remains, though, as to whether it is wise to publicly push the American administration into a defensive position with no pre-coordination, and during U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's visit to Israel and Arab countries.
More serious is the fact that intelligence is merely the preface to action. The obvious operational by-product would be the involvement of American troops in the fighting in Syria - a decision that must be made with the utmost seriousness by the U.S. president after consulting military, Congressional and NATO leaders and Syria's regional neighbors - Turkey, Jordan, and also Israel. The decision should not be made because of blatant urging by Israel.
President Barack Obama objected to the decision of his predecessor, George W. Bush, to invade Iraq. Among other things, Bush relied on mistaken intelligence. The invasion was, therefore, the result of the dubious success of Iraqi deceit - more than anything Saddam Hussein wanted to persuade Iran and Israel, the enemies he sought to deter, that he had weapons of mass destruction.
The intelligence failure of the war in Iraq led both statesmen and intelligence officials to be more cautious when it comes to the Iranian nuclear program. For five and a half years, since the autumn of 2007, American assessments in this matter have been hesitant, and elicited more questions than exclamation points. In this respect, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's open efforts to wage war on Iran have so far been stymied - and whether Israeli or American, it is the same, because even if at first only the Israel Defense Forces operates, the American Air Force and Navy could be dragged in, in response to an Iranian response.
Obama does not want to be sucked into a Syrian war whose outcome and impacts cannot be predicted. He must weigh all the interests. Credibility and deterrence are on one side of the scale; priorities of the next three years of this administration (budget, foreign and domestic relations ) on the other.
Israel has a supreme security interest in preventing chemical weapons and advanced missiles from spilling over to Hezbollah or global jihadists. It is right for Israel to act to preserve the taboo on the use of gases, but Israel must not be seen as intervening in the question of American involvement.
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