Netanyahu Backed Obama's Delaying of 2013 Syria Strike, Former Aide Says

Former Obama aide Ben Rhodes writes that Israeli prime minister stood by U.S. president's decision to not strike unilaterally following Syria's chemical weapons attack pending congressional authorization

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 30, 2013.
AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lent then-U.S. President Barack Obama support in 2013 after Obama opted to seek congressional authorization before striking Syria rather than taking unilateral action, according to a former senior Obama adviser.

In an excerpt from Ben Rhodes' forthcoming book, "The World as It Is," Obama's former deputy national security advisor for strategic communications wrote that Obama planned to strike Syria in 2013 in response to a sarin gas attack ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad that killed more than a thousand people in a suburb of Damascus in August 2013.

Obama was hesitant to act unilaterally despite his public announcement in 2012 that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" for the U.S., according to Rhodes. He ended up shifting to seek congressional authorization after facing growing opposition from Republican lawmakers in the U.S., as well as British and German refusal to participate in U.S.-led strikes on the Assad regime.

According to Rhodes, Obama consulted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among other leaders, on his shifting Syria policy. Netanyahu lent Obama support, saying: "Your decision [to seek congressional support for striking] was right, and history will be kinder than public opinion."

Rhodes described the heated discussions in Obama's White House in the weeks prior to seeking congressional authorization for bombing Syria in 2013 in the excerpt, published in The Atlantic. Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and the Saudi government were among those who lobbied Congress to authorize the strike, according to Rhodes. The congressional vote never took place, as the White House and Russia pursued a diplomatic solution, putting in place an agreement that would remove and destroy thousands of tons of chemical weapons from Syria.

Rhodes summarizes Obama's calculation: "I realized then that he was comfortable with either outcome. If we won authorization, he’d be in a strong position to act in Syria. If we didn’t, then we would potentially end the cycle of American wars of regime change in the Middle East."

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama with senior media adviser Ben Rhodes in the White House, September 10, 2014.
Pete Souza \\ The White House