Israel takes pressure off Obama to act on 'red line' for Syria

The “red line” President Obama has set for Syria doesn't diminish the credibility of the administration's similar warning against Iran, a top Israeli official said, taking pressure off Obama to respond forcefully to reports Bashar Assad may have used chemical weapons.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of strategic and intelligence affairs and international relations, shot down allegations that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pressuring Obama to respond aggressively in Syria. He made the remarks Sunday during a conference in New York sponsored by The Jerusalem Post.

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“We never asked, nor did we encourage, the United States to take military action in Syria,” Steinitz said. “And we are not making any comparison or linkage with Iran, which is a completely different matter.”

The administration said last week it believes Syria probably used chemical weapons, but it is still investigating to find “direct evidence” that the Assad regime violated Obama's oft-repeated warning. The president has likewise said that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be a “red line,” prompting hawkish lawmakers to urge action in Syria that would put Iran on notice.

“The problem is, you know, the president has laid down the line. And it can't be a dotted line. It can't be anything other than a red line,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Sunday on ABC's This Week. “More than just Syria, Iran is paying attention to this. North Korea is paying attention to this. The options aren't huge, but some action needs to be taken.”

Obama has said it would be unacceptable for Iran to gain a nuclear weapon, a development Israel sees as an existential threat that would inevitably spark a military response.

“I've stated repeatedly, publicly that red line, and that is we're not going to accept Iran having a nuclear weapon,” Obama said last year. 

The president however has balked at getting the United States engaged in another Middle Eastern war – he personally overruled the recommendations from his secretaries of state and defense last year to arm vetted rebel groups – and made it clear he remains reluctant despite his administration's latest assessment.

“Knowing that there's chemical weapons in Syria doesn't tell us when they were used or how they were used,” he told reporters Friday. “We ourselves will be putting a lot of resources on this.”