Israeli minister: Syria strike repositioned America as regional leader

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Adding to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s praises for the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian army base, a senior cabinet minister said it “restored America’s regional leadership in a big way.”

Yisrael Katz, Israel’s transportation minister and a member of the cabinet’s defense forum, made this assertion on Friday during an interview with Army Radio about the U.S. strike Thursday night, in which dozens of guided missiles were launched at an army base of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad over his army’s alleged use earlier this week of chemical weapons in attacking rebel-held areas.

“There are things that only the number one superpower in the world can do,” Katza said. “In contrast to the failed policy of leading from behind, which led to Iran’s entrenchment, the United States has “restored America’s regional leadership in a big way in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu on Thursday praised President Donald Trump in a statement that said that Trump, “in both word and action,” had “sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision.”

Israel, Netanyahu added, “hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”

U.S. defense officials “updated Israel in real time” about the strike, Katz also said.

Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Netanyahu to protest Netanyahu’s condemnation of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Putin said the allegation was unproven and that Netanyanhu should have waited for an international investigation before commenting.

Avi Dichter, a former head of the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, told Army Radio Friday the disagreement did not signify a deterioration of relations with Russia. “There are understandings in place” despite rhetoric intended for media, he said.

Russia last year joined Iran’s military intervention in Syria in favor of Assad, who has lost control of roughly 75 percent of the internationally-recognized territory of Syria since the eruption in 2011 of a civil war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

Former president Barack Obama, who spearheaded an international agreement offering Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a scaling back of elements of its nuclear program, had described the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a red line following previous attacks. Obama’s critics have accused him of failing to enforce that red line.

Israel has, according to international media, carried out a number of military strikes in Syria before and during the civil war, primarily to keep advanced weapons from being moved or reaching Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian militia that is based in southern Lebanon and is committed to fighting Israel.