Netanyahu mum on Obama's Syria delay but says Israel strong alone

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played up Israel's ability to take on its enemies alone on Sunday after Washington delayed attacking Syria in a surprise move that prompted some Israelis to question their main ally's resolve on Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday he would ask Congress to vote on whether to launch strikes to punish the Damascus government for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

The hold-up jarred Israelis who see in the Syria showdown a test of the Americans' ability to make good on a pledge to deny Iran the means to make a nuclear bomb through military force if diplomatic alternatives fail.

"Israel is serene and self-confident," Netanyahu said in public remarks to his cabinet before its weekly meeting.

"Israel's citizens know well that we are prepared for any possible scenario. 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," he said.

He did not mention Iran nor Syria by name, but in previous statements he has linked the two cases.

Army Radio, a major Israeli broadcaster, quoted an unnamed government official in far less elliptical terms.

"If Obama is hesitating on the matter of Syria, 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."

Netanyahu has sparred with Obama over Iran in the past. Obama wants more time to pursue Western sanctions and negotiations to curb a nuclear program Iran says is peaceful.

Obama has not ruled out war. On Saturday he appeared to allude to this in remarks urging support for attacking Syria.

"If we won't enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms?" he said.

Polls show, however, that attacking Syria would be strongly opposed by Americans weary of the Iraqi and Afghan campaigns.

Commentators in Israel are deeply divided on whether Syria has much to do with the Iranian situation.

Naftali Bennett, an ultranationalist partner in Israel's coalition, said on Facebook, "More than 1,000 civilians, many of them babies and children, were murdered by a dark regime using poison gas. And the world hesitates. This is a major lesson. At the moment of truth, we will depend only on ourselves."

Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister, spoke in favor of Obama's Syria deliberations, arguing that the U.S. president was reluctant to take sides in the conflict between Assad and rebels who include al Qaeda-linked radical Islamists.

He also dismissed any link between crises in Syria and Iran.

"There is no analogy here. In Iran the enemy is clear, the objective is clear and what has to be done is clear," he said. "It would illusory to think that if Obama does not make good the commitment he made to lob a few Tomahawks at Syria that is a sign that in Iran, too, he will not do what is required."

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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