JERUSALEM — Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Jerusalem on Sunday to reassure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S.-Russia deal to secure Syria’s chemical weapons does not diminish American resolve to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.
Seeing the deal through the prism of Iran, the Obama administration knows that its commitment to strike Iran if diplomacy fails is now under question.
President Barack Obama told ABC’s ‘‘This Week With George Stephanopoulos’’ in an interview broadcast Sunday that Iran understands that its nuclear program is ‘‘a far larger issue for us’’ than the use of chemical weapons in Syria and that the threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel ‘‘is much closer to our core interests.’’
Obama said that Iran recognizes it shouldn’t draw the wrong conclusion because he made the decision not to launch a missile strike against Syria. ‘‘My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria] to think we won’t strike Iran,’’ he said.
Netanyahu told Kerry that he has been closely monitoring the Syrian weapons diplomacy and supports it.
‘‘The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons,’’ Netanyahu said. ‘‘That would make our entire region a lot safer.’’
Kerry heads next to Paris for discussions about the Syria deal with foreign ministers from France, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The Israeli leader stressed that any action on the Syrian front must be seen in the context of ‘‘the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.’’
At the same time, diplomats in Israel worry that the push to have Syria sign and ratify a chemical weapons treaty, and allow for inspections of its arsenal, throws an unwelcome spotlight on the secretive chemical and nuclear arsenal that Israel has built next door.
Israel, which is presumed to have nuclear weapons and also is suspected of at least some chemical weapons capability, is worried that the Syria deal could reinvigorate calls that the entire Middle East be rid of weapons of mass destruction.
That theme is likely to run through much of the discussion of the Syria arrangement during the annual U.N. General Assembly later this month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier said that Syria’s chemical weapons exist as a response to Israel’s military capabilities. Russian diplomats have said that Syria’s chemical arsenal has served as a deterrent against Israel, which possesses nuclear weapons.
Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear or chemical weapons.
Israel signed a chemical weapons convention in 1993, which signals a country’s intent to abide by an accord, but does not bind it to do so. Israel never ratified the treaty, which would require it to meet all its obligations.
Netanyahu’s deputy foreign minister, Ze’ev Elkin, said in an interview Sunday that Israel did not intend to ratify the chemical weapons convention now because its neighbors still cannot be trusted.
‘‘Israel has its reasons not to ratify it,’’ Elkin said. ‘‘We are still facing these issues — such as calls to destroy the State of Israel from countries that still have access to these kinds of weapons.’’
Emily Landau, an expert in arms control at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that Israel’s wariness is understandable. In 2005, for example, Syria in formal declarations told the United Nations that it had no chemical weapons — a claim that has been proved false.
Israel’s military and diplomatic establishment was initially disappointed when Obama made the decision not to launch a military strike to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons.
Since then, Israel has begun to see some advantages in a Russia-brokered diplomatic deal to secure Syria’s chemical weapons, especially if it is successful.
‘‘The American threat against Syria has given Israel a present that it could only dream of — the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal,’’ said Eitan Barak, an expert on arms control and disarmament at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
For years, Barak said, Israel has invested millions in gas masks and shelters designed to resist chemical attack. ‘‘And suddenly all that is gone. If Kerry asks Israel, what about you?’’ Would Israel ratify a chemical weapons treaty? ‘‘This is a legitimate question.’’
‘‘The finger will point toward Israel and in the view of many people around the world, that is rightly so,’’ he said.
Only Israel and Myanmar have signed the chemical weapons treaty but not ratified it. Egypt, North Korea, Angola and South Sudan have not signed it. Barak said it would be a relatively straightforward matter for Israel to ratify the treaty because the government can choose to do so on its own — Netanyahu does not need the approval of the Israeli parliament.
In remarks to commemorate the 40th anniversary the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu on Sunday was guarded in his appraisal of the efforts of Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to get Syrian President Bashar Assad to surrender his chemical weapon stockpile.
‘‘We hope that the understandings that have been achieved between the U.S. and Russia regarding Syria’s chemical weapons will show results, and indeed, these understandings will be tested by results — the full destruction of the stocks of chemical weapons that the Syrian regime has used against its own people,’’ Netanyahu said before his meeting with Kerry.
‘‘The test of results also applies to the international community’s diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons,’’ he said. ‘‘Here as well, it is not words that will be decisive, but rather, actions and results.’’
Avigdor Lieberman, former foreign minister and chairman of the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, told Channel 2 on Sunday morning, ‘‘Only in the next week, when Syria has presented a list of its chemical weapons stockpiles to the UN, will we know if Assad is serious. Israel has a pretty good idea about the weapons in the hands of Assad, and after the published data, we will verify them.’’
For both Syria and Iran, Netanyahu said, ‘‘if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.’’
Following a lengthy lunch meeting with Netanyahu, Kerry told reporters that the session focused both on the ongoing Israel-Palestinian peace talks and on the Syria diplomacy.
Kerry said his goal in the Syria deal is a ‘‘standard of behavior’’ that would also apply to Iran or North Korea ‘‘or any other state, rogue state that . . . might try to reach for these kinds of weapons.’’
Although U.S. officials have said they do not contemplate seeking U.N. authorization for any military response if Syria fails to comply, Kerry made a point of noting that the deal will be enforceable by force or lesser means.
The United States is retaining its separate option of a unilateral attack without U.N. approval. That was the plan until the weapons deal appeared suddenly last week, and the Obama administration claims the deal would have been impossible without that threat.
‘‘Diplomacy has always been the preferred path,’’ Kerry said. ‘‘But make no mistake, we’ve taken no options off the table.’’