Tags: Elliott | Abrams | Syria | Mideast

Elliott Abrams: Obama’s Response to Syria Will Dominate Mideast Visit

By Todd Beamon and John Bachman   |   Tuesday, 19 Mar 2013 08:43 PM

If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military has used chemical weapons in the nation’s two-year-old conflict with rebel forces, President Barack Obama has several military options, Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser, tells Newsmax TV.

“For one thing, they can try to eliminate the Syrian Air Force,” Abrams, senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “That could be done, essentially, by cruise missiles — without even flying over Syria.

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“Or, if worse comes to worse, sending in teams to try to take over those sites or possibly bombing those sites — though it would be too dangerous for this stuff to be sprayed into the atmosphere.

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“All of the options are pretty bad, but the president has said that he would not allow the government of Syria to use chemical weapons,” Abrams adds. “I’m confident that this is going to be a key subject for discussion, first with the Israelis and second in Amman when he sees King Abdullah [II] of Jordan.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that there was a “high probability” that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime in Syria.

“I have a high probability to believe that chemical weapons were used,” the Michigan Republican told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We need that field verification.”

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in the same CNN interview, “I agree with the comments Chairman Rogers has made,” but added that a formal response should come from the White House.

The news comes as President Obama departed on Tuesday for his second official visit to the Mideast.

Abrams, who served both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, tells Newsmax that he does not expect the president to jump-start the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians on this visit.

“The Iran stuff will be largely behind closed doors — and on the Palestinian front, there’s really no room right now for progress, particularly with the division between Hamas and Fatah and with the kind of chaos in the Arab world. I don’t think you’re going to see anything in the way of progress.”

But it remains critical that Obama and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu overcome their differences.

“It’s much more important for them to come to some kind of decent relationship,” he tells Newsmax. “They didn’t really have one during the first term. They both got re-elected, so whether they like it or not, their fate had each other as partners — and this may be a chance for them to bury the hatchet and try again.

“The bottom line is the president to show Israelis: ‘I get it. I understand your problems. I’m on your side,’” Abrams says.

And that must be the focus of Obama’s speech to the Israeli people in Jerusalem on Thursday.

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“First, he needs to say that he understands the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel didn’t start with the Holocaust in the 1930s or after World War II,” Abrams says. “He needs to explain this goes back to the Bible; he gets it; he understands that.

“He needs to also say he recognizes that, at least twice — Camp David in 2000 and again in 2008 — the Israeli prime ministers made a big peace offer to the Palestinians and it was rejected, and he understands that he can’t blame Israel for the lack of a peace deal. And he needs to show that he understands that they live in a really bad neighborhood.

“Look at Syria right now,” Abrams notes. “He needs to show that he understands the security challenges they face, that they are the only country in the world about which somebody is saying: ‘This country ought not to exist. This country should be eliminated.’”

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