US/World News

Obama on Syria retaliation: Israel ‘can defend itself’

( President Barack Obama said Tuesday night that if Syria were to attack Israel as retaliation for an American military strike on Syria, Israel would be able to defend itself with “overwhelming force” and “unshakable” U.S. support.

Israelis have rushed to gas mask distribution centers as a precaution for possible Syrian retaliation, if the U.S. were to strike. But U.S. action has been delayed, with Obama saying Tuesday in a nationally televised address that he has “asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force” while American pursues a diplomatic solution with Russia, which has proposed a deal involving the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons to international supervision.

“Neither [President Bashar] Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise,” Obama said. “And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.”

Obama said that failing to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians “would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.”

Israeli leaders have reacted to Russia’s plan—which does not include punitive measures against Syria for using chemical weapons—with skepticism. President Shimon Peres warned that the Syrians, who welcomed the Russian proposal, have “proved they are not credible and that their integrity should not be trusted.” Member of Knesset Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) stressed that the details of the Russian proposal are unclear, and that Israel should remain uninvolved in the Syrian civil war.

“Assad must understand that he and his associates will become a legitimate target, if he drags Israel into the conflict,” Lieberman said.

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