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In Israel, relief and frustration with Obama decision on Syria

Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a strike on Syria got a mixed reaction in Israel.

JERUSALEM — The best indicator of the difficulty in discerning Israel’s reaction to President Barack Obama’s Labor Day Weekend surprise, when instead of ordering an immediate military stike against Syria, he anounced he’d seek Congressional approval first, may be found in three parallel headlines.

The online English-language Times of Israel described the “privately horrified” reactions of Israeli decision makers underthe screaming banner: “Obama unleashes horror in Jerusalem.”

The august Hebrew-language daily Ha’aretz, on the other hand, a stalwart of the left, led with “Obama informed Netanyahu prior to speech of plans to delay Syria strike,” emphasizing that the president personally called the prime minister “as part of effort to coordinate both states’ next moves regarding Syria.”

As it has at most of the pivotal moments in the two-and-a-half-year civil war that is tearing apart its neighbor to the north, the Israeli government has kept mum at this juncture as well.

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In the matter of understanding whether Israel’s non-reaction constituted shock or quiet synchronization, the neutral New York Times headline writer got it closest to the mark with: “Obama’s Syria Decision Greeted Silently by Israel.”

In a special interview granted to Israel Army Radio on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israeli President Shimon Peres — who at 90 has seen dozens of such moments of high-level hysteria come and go — left no doubt about his feelings, stating “in all matters conerning Israel, I trust Obama.”

“He’s not hesitating,” he said, about Obama’s apparent about-face regarding Congressional approval of an American strike against Syria. “He is considering matters. And it’s better to do that ahead of time than after the fact.”

Meanwhile, regular Israelis, who last week mobbed gas mask collection centers in anticipation of what they expected to be an imminent attack, have taken the president’s change of tactic as a pass to focus on the upcoming holiday

Residents of Tel Aviv, who are normally oblivious to the high-stress zones at Israel’s northern and southern borders, trooped over to gawk at the new attractions in town: Iron Dome anti-missile batteries, set up in anticipation of possible Syrian reprisals in the event on an American strike. Urbane Tel Avivis rode over the sites on titanium bikes, some running on electric motors, bearing treats such as sushi and soft drinks for the soldiers on duty.