In a strident exhortation to the New America Foundation on Monday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice reiterated President Barack Obama’s case for a “limited” military strike against Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons use by Bashar al-Assad’s forces. She described potential consequences if the U.S. did not act, including the prediction that chemical weapons might one day be used on “Israelis and Palestinians.”
The accusation came in a part of Rice’s argument in which she claimed that a strike was necessary to protect Israel. Yet it evokes one of the worst anti-Israel libels of the past two decades: that Israel uses chemical weapons against Palestinians. The claim was made most notoriously in 1999, in the presence of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, by Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha (Clinton failed to condemn the remarks until later).
More recently, international activists and the left-wing journalists have claimed that Israel used chemical weapons against Palestinians in Gaza in the form of white phosphorus, which is commonly used by armies worldwide, often to illuminate targets. The Jerusalem Post noted Monday that the UK Observer had issued a correction after comparing Israel’s use of white phosphorus to Assad’s chemical weapons use.
It is possible that Rice was making a pitch to far-left, anti-war sentiment–she was speaking, after all, at the left-wing New America Foundation, just days after UN Ambassador Samantha Power made Obama’s case to another left-wing think tank, the Center for American Progress. More likely, the claim that Palestinians might become targets was simply a clumsy rhetorical flourish aimed at showing equal empathy to both sides.