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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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September 4th, 2013
12:00 PM ET

Analysis: The role of Israel and the Middle East in the U.S. debate on Syria

The United Kingdom has voted against participating in a military strike against Syria. Indeed, few U.S. allies are coming to the fore, except maybe France and Turkey.

"It's one of these instances where you wonder if the U.S. should start to look for a different set of allies in this case. For example, maybe Saudi Arabia, who has enormous interest in this instance, and the capacity truly to be of assistance," said CNN's chief domestic affairs correspondent Jessica Yellin.

"Maybe part of the reason the president is taking this to the American people is to say there are other countries whispering in our ears to say they need our help about this," said Yellin.

"It's a normal reaction to say, 'Hey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, you think this is a terrible problem? You have these big air forces, we know you have them, because we sold them to you. You go deal with this,'" said Jeffrey Goldberg, columnist with Bloomberg View.

Such reaction illustrates "the general fatigue that Americans have with dealing with the complexities of the unraveling Middle East," said Goldberg.

The Arab League decried the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, and some members of the Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in particular, have said they will help the U.S. in some way.

"They have said the Assad regime should be held responsible, but stopped short of saying there should be a military strike," said Andrew Tabler, fellow at The Washington Institute.

"But there's a lot of constraints within different Arab systems and societies about U.S. intervention. A year ago, or two years ago, it might have been a very different case at the beginning of the Arab uprisings. But now, as war fatigue has set in, inside of Syria as the war has raged on, as the death toll has gone through the ceiling, people have begun to change their minds a bit," said Tabler.

The New York Times quoted an Obama administration official referring to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC as "the 800-pound gorilla in the room" when it comes to the U.S. debate on Syria.

Israel is, to some extent, exploiting the debate, said Goldberg.

"The truth of the matter is, Israel can defend itself against Syria, it can contain that threat and manage that threat. As we know, Israel has already launched missile strikes repeatedly on Syrian targets," said Goldberg.

But there is another component to Israel's involvement in the U.S. debate, said Goldberg.

"Israel, like any American ally in the Middle East, needs America to have credibility, and deterrent credibility in the Middle East," said Goldberg, who added that Israel is worried if the U.S. doesn't strike Syria, the Iranians will interpret the inaction as President Barack Obama being incapable of intervening militarily in the region, and will build a nuclear weapon.

One of the things keeping Israel from bombing Iran is the promise that the United States will never let Israel be attacked by a nuclear weapon. In that scenario, the U.S. would take action.

Yellin said that is a false equivalence, and that the president would take action if he believed Iran posed a genuine threat.

"But if he's drawn a line by accident, or that he doesn't truly believe on Syria, that he doesn't actually want to take, or that was a mistake of rhetoric, and he doesn't truly believe in it ... if that were the case, you don't have to - it's almost like a Hollywood scenario, where a president has to take an action because he said something, and has to stand up for his credibility," said Yellin.

"He didn't just draw it with any old power in the region, he drew it with the Assad regime," Tabler said in response. "I can't imagine that the Iranians would read it any other way. He laid down the red line, and if he didn't mean it, he shouldn't have done it in the first place."

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