As President Obama turns to Congress for approval of any action against Syria’s Assad, America’s allies in the Middle East are quietly rolling their eyes. Reuters has an excellent write-up of how relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia have fared in light of the US’s largely reactive and rudderless policies in the region.Here’s how the Syria delay is playing in Israel:
Last year, Obama assured Israelis that he would “always have Israel’s back”. Now Netanyahu is reassuring them they can manage without uncertain U.S. protection against Iran, which has called for Israel’s destruction but denies developing nuclear weapons.“Israel’s citizens know well that we are prepared for any possible scenario,” the hawkish prime minister said. “And Israel’s citizens should also know that our enemies have very good reasons not to test our power and not to test our might.”That may not reassure a U.S. administration which has tried to steer Netanyahu away from unilateral action against Iran that could stir yet more chaos in the already explosive Middle East.Israel’s state-run Army Radio was more explicit: “If Obama is hesitating on the matter of Syria,” it said, “Then clearly on the question of attacking Iran, a move that is expected to be far more complicated, Obama will hesitate much more – and thus the chances Israel will have to act alone have increased.”Israelis contrast the “red line” Netanyahu has set for how close Iran may come to nuclear weapons capability before Israel strikes with Obama’s “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons – seemingly passed without U.S. military action so far.
Here’s the reaction in Riyadh:
Disappointment with Obama’s hesitation against Assad came through on Sunday in the Saudi foreign minister’s remarks to the Arab League in Cairo, where he said words were no longer enough.Riyadh and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) risk ending up empty-handed in their latest push for U.S. backing in their campaign to rein in Iran, said Sami al-Faraj, a Kuwaiti analyst who advises the GCC on security matters:“The idea of a punishment for a crime has lost its flavor. We are on the edge of the possibility that military action may not be conducted,” he said. “Congress, for sure, … will attach conditions to what is already going to be a limited strike. At the end, we as Gulf allies, may end up with nothing.”
In short, the Syrian sideshow is largely being viewed as a test of the credibility of US threats and guarantees regarding Iran’s nuclear program. As we argued yesterday, an attack that surprises on the upside may be the best way forward to restore some of that credibility, while a series of ‘pin prick’ attacks is likely to do little else than hasten its erosion across the Middle East and elsewhere.Though a strong show of force won’t fix Syria by itself, doing nothing is now by far the worst option. President Obama finds himself in a deeply unenviable position. But the Syria mess is not going away on its own, and as we’ve seen from recent history, waiting will only give the president greater headaches tomorrow.[Obama delivers message on Syria in the Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]