Despite Syria Tensions, Netanyahu to Set Out for China Sunday Evening

Moving ahead with his travel plans seems calculated to avoid giving the impression of another impending attack and an effort to not bail on the Chinese again after doing so in 2010.

Despite the tension on the northern border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not postpone his trip to China and will leave for Shanghai this evening, officials at the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Sunday morning. The announcement indicates that the PMO does not believe Syria and Hezbollah will respond to the Israeli attacks that were reported in the foreign press this past weekend.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu delayed his flight by two hours in order to meet with Israel's security cabinet on Sunday afternoon before his departure.

Netanyahu will leave for China at 7:00 P.M. Sunday and return on Friday. In his absence, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon will serve as acting prime minister. Netanyahu will receive ongoing security updates and will be available for contact during the flight as well. However, if there is any escalation on the northern border that requires the security cabinet to meet, it will take Netanyahu several hours to return to Israel.

Netanyahu’s decision not to postpone his trip at the last minute seems calculated to avoid sending a message to Syria and Hezbollah that Israel is preparing for another attack, which could lead to a severe escalation. In addition, Netanyahu doesn't want to offend the Chinese again after he cancelled a trip to Beijing at the last minute in November 2010.

But Netanyahu has had bad experiences with trips abroad during times of tension. In May 2010, he visited Canada on the eve of the Turkish flotilla incident, believing that the chances of the flotilla turning into a security incident were low.

Thus Netanyahu was in Ottawa when the Mavi Marmara was boarded and nine Turkish citizens were killed. Although he was kept up to date on the incident, he had difficulty managing it from a distance.

Moshe Ya’alon, who was then strategic affairs minister and acting prime minister during Netanyahu’s trip, wanted to convene the security cabinet, but did not receive permission to do so. Nor did he receive cooperation from then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The state comproller's report on the incident criticized Netanyahu for his trip to Canada.

Amos Ben Gershom / GPO