The Obama administration is using a time-tested pitch to get Congress to back military strikes in Syria: It will help protect Israel.
Israel’s enemies, including Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, could be emboldened if Congress fails to approve action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, senior administration officials said Saturday.
And for the second day in a row, President Barack Obama publicly cited the threat against Israel if Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons goes unchecked. “It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq,” Obama said Saturday in the Rose Garden. “It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”
Secretary of State John Kerry also referred to Israel repeatedly as he made the rounds on all five major Sunday morning news shows — as well as comparing Assad to Adolf Hitler.
“I think the stakes of upholding the international standard of behavior that has been in place since 1925, after World War I, that only Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein have breached that in time of war since then, and now Assad joins them, I think to contemplate that the Congress of the United States would turn its back on Israel, on Jordan, on Turkey, on our allies in the region, turn its back on innocent Syrian people who have been slaughtered by this gas and those who yet may be subject to an attack, … I can’t contemplate that the Congress would turn its back on all of that responsibility and the fact that we would have in fact granted impunity to a ruthless dictator to continue to gas his people,” Kerry told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
The White House will need every vote it can get on the Syria resolution, and the senior administration officials left little doubt that Israel would be a point of emphasis in private discussions with members of Congress.
The Capitol is filled with strong supporters of Israel who understand the argument, one of the officials said.
But Israel’s security is a political razor blade that could cut both ways.
As Obama has weighed potential military action, the politics of Israel’s interests have become more delicate. The prospect of strikes against Syria triggering reprisals from Iran and Hezbollah is real enough to bolster the case against authorizing the president to use force, too, congressional insiders say.
“You’re going to see people arguing the exact opposite” of Obama, said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who has spent time in the region. An Israel play “could really backfire.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) raised similar questions shortly after Kerry spoke on Sunday’s news shows.
“I would ask John Kerry do you think if it’s more likely or less likely that we’ll have less refugees in Jordan or if Israel will suffer an attack,” Paul said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
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