White House to Congress: ‘Help protect Israel with attack on Syria’
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.” 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.”The administration’s case that intervening benefits Israel will turn on what lawmakers hear from pro-Israel groups in their communities and from the reactions of leading Jewish lawmakers, said a senior House Democratic aide. The Israel angle “only has a major impact if it’s getting validated from others,” the aide said. “Doesn’t have to be AIPAC writ large, but the local AIPAC lay leaders that the members have personal relationships [with] need to be validating.” House leaders are likely to use prominent Jewish members who are hawkish on Israel as a bellwether. That group includes Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). Engel announced on Friday that the administration had convinced him it was appropriate to make punitive strikes against Assad, though he had been pretty clearly in the camp favoring action before that. “We cannot stand idly by,” Engel said on NBC’s “Today” show. “If we stand idly by, then every despot in the world thinks they can commit war crimes and no one will do anything.” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leader in the progressive caucus who is Jewish, released a statement Saturday night praising Obama for seeking congressional approval for the use of force in Syria. But she stopped short of endorsing his authorization measure. “We need to determine the best way to respond to the heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria and how we can act effectively to protect civilians from further massacres,” she said.
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