Vice President Joe Biden addresses the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press) Vice President Joe Biden addresses the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The Post reports: “Israeli forces have carried out an airstrike against a shipment of sophisticated missiles bound for the Lebanese political and military organization Hezbollah, officials in Washington, Lebanon and Israel told reporters Saturday…. Lebanese authorities and residents had already reported unusually intense Israeli overflights during the previous 48 hours, suggesting the warplanes may have struck their target from Lebanese airspace.” Israeli planes struck again on Sunday outside Damascus.

So much for the suggestion by critics of stronger U.S. action that Syria’s anti-aircraft system is formidable. It seems someone in the Israeli government took a not-too-subtle swipe at the Obama administration’s equivocating on Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. “Israeli officials described the missiles targeted in the Friday strike as ‘game-changing’ weapons, according to the Associated Press. They said they were not chemical weapons, but advanced, long-range, ground-to-ground missiles.” Translation: When Israel draws a red line, it means it.

Not only does the Israeli action contrast with the U.S. government’s fecklessness, but it also raises the issue of whether the United States would prefer Israel police the Middle East. It is unbecoming for a superpower to let little Israel take on the Iranian surrogates. It will likely unnerve our allies elsewhere and embolden foes in other parts of the world.

As for the Middle East, when a U.S. president is this passive and unwilling to act in accord with its words, the West and the Sunni states can take comfort in knowing that Israel is there to rein in the mullahs and their surrogates.

Two other events are significant. Both emphasize the degree to which American reticence is tipping the balance of power in the region toward Iran.

First, the State Department could only issue empty blather about how horrified the United States was after “hundreds of Sunnis fled the area around the nearby town of Baniyas after reports of another incident overnight Friday, in which at least eight deaths have been confirmed.” The United States is showing its words to be empty. Why even bother to comment?

Second: “Also Saturday, Assad made his second public appearance in three days, visiting a Damascus university to inaugurate a statue dedicated to students who have died in the violence. Footage aired by state television showed him being mobbed by cheering, waving supporters. Assad rarely appears in public, and his visibility this week suggests his confidence has been buoyed by recent gains by his forces in some parts of the country and by indications that the international community remains reluctant to involve itself in the Syrian conflict, despite the reports that his regime has used chemical weapons.”

Yes, Assad and his senior partners in Tehran should feel rather confident these days. The United States is obviously unwilling to back up its rhetoric with action. Syria is a dress rehearsal  for the bigger conflict between Iran and the West. There, too, one suspects, Israel will be forced to act. For what Israeli prime minister could rely on this administration to act? If Obama won’t take on Syria, there is little chance he’ll make good on his threats to Iran.