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Israeli Support For U.S. Military Action Against Syria Grows


Syria shares a border with Israel, and the two countries have never signed a peace agreement after fighting a war 40 years ago. Still, their border has been stable; and the Israeli view of U.S. military action against Syria is complicated and centered largely on another regional player, Iran. To learn more, we turn to NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Good morning.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So does there seem to be any consensus in Israel about what it would like to see the U.S. do?

HARRIS: There are a chorus of voices in the Israeli government that are certainly supporting some kind of U.S. intervention in Syria. There's a belief here it would be a targeted intervention. Israel's careful to say they're not giving advice on what should be done.

But there's a very specific reason beyond the atrocity of this use of chemical weapons in Syria, that Israeli officials are citing as a reason to act. There's another reason they cite. They draw the line to another country, Iran, which - they are concerned about the development of nuclear weapons in Iran, and say this attack in Syria proves that certain types of governments should not have access to weapons of mass destruction; and say that this attack in Syria should remind the world that action should be taken against Iran and its nuclear weapons program.

MONTAGNE: And how far might Israel like to see the U.S. go, as far as actually toppling the Assad regime?

HARRIS: That's a question that's been debated in Israel for quite a while now, and very intensely. Some people think that Assad can at least control the border with Israel better than another government might, especially - potentially - a jihadi one. But other Israelis would like to see Assad brought down because it might break the triangle that worries them a lot - between Iran's support for Syria and support for Hezbollah, in southern Lebanon, also on Israel's northern border.

But there are people who say that there's no chance that Assad can regain control and provide the kind of stable northern neighbor that Israel had for 40 years, and needs to go now. One analyst I spoke to actually was against any kind of U.S. intervention because he felt that it wouldn't finish the job and that that job should be done now, Assad should be removed from power.

MONTAGNE: And should the U.S. launch any sort of attack against Syria, would it want any military help from Israel?

HARRIS: Military help, almost certainly not. One concern is that any international intervention in Syria could trigger some kind of response, and it could be against Israel. If Israel were directly attacked, Israeli officials from the prime minister on down have made it clear they would feel the need to respond. In fact, one analyst I spoke to here, an Israeli analyst, pointed out that Israel is not part of some of the meetings in Jordan on what to do about Syria. Israel does have a lot of intelligence about Syria and is a close partner of the United States, so it's likely that they would share intelligence, if asked.

MONTAGNE: You know, also, Emily, we're hearing that some Israelis are preparing gas masks in case Syria might lash out at Israel, should there be a U.S. strike. How worried are people there about that?

HARRIS: This is one of those reminder times for Israelis. I mean, Israelis are constantly aware of their neighbors and the possibility of some kind of threat from outside their borders. But this is one of those times where the threat perhaps becomes a little more real. There's a national system of distribution for protective gear kits against gas attacks. And over the last couple of days - according to the postal service, which does the distribution - it says that inquiries have been up, and collection of kits have been up about four times over normal. And by some estimates, only about 60 percent of Israelis actually have these kits.

So they are refreshing their stocks; and concern is higher than normal, certainly.

MONTAGNE: Emily, thanks very much.

HARRIS: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Emily Harris, speaking to us from Jerusalem.


MONTAGNE: You’re listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.