A number of sources, including military officers from the United States, Israel, France, and Britain, have clearly stated a belief that, in spite of the “Red Line” mandate from President Obama, Syria has used and continues to use chemical weapons in the form of sarin gas. Senior Israeli officials cited have seen photographs that show victims foaming at the mouth. They place the blame on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They claim knowledge of several incidents of this chemical usage, and the killing thereby of dozens of rebel fighters.
Brigadier General Itai Baron, the head of the Research Division of Israel’s Military Intelligence, said Tuesday that the Assad forces had access to large quantities of chemical gas weapons, and that, “We believe the regime has, and is using chemical weapons.”.
A second, unnamed, Israeli officer said chemical weapons appear to have been used in five cases, killing dozens of people.
General Baron made no reference to the White House’s absolute declaration that chemical weapons must not be utilized by the Assad regime. Rather, he called for Washington to step up assistance to Syrian rebel forces.
Speaking for the administration, press secretary Jay Carney urged caution, saying, “We support an investigation. We are monitoring this. We have not come to the conclusion that there has been that use. But it is something that is of great concern to us, to our partners, and obviously unacceptable.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, now involved in NATO meetings on the matter of the Syrian revolts, indicated he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone, and that the Prime Minister was not at that time in a position to confirm the assessment of his military leaders. Kerry also stressed caution, saying further investigation is necessary.
At a meeting in Istanbul, a U.S. spokesman said the U.S. would deliver greater aid to the rebels, but is not able at this time to send arms. It is feared the arms might fall into the hands of Islamic militants.
The rebels in Syria we know are predominately Sunni Muslims, who feel they have been oppressed by the ruling Assad family, who are Alawites, a liberal sect of Shiites who reportedly have some rhetorical backing from al-Qaeda.
Some of the areas now under rebel extremist control are enforcing social restrictions, including banning smoking, drinking, and unveiled women. They would likely receive greater global support were they to commit to a pluralistic form of government.
With the ongoing issue of having no legitimate group to support, and with the danger of arms falling into Assad’s hands, the U.S. is in a difficult situation. President Obama was clear and unyielding when he drew the “line in the sand.” It should be a matter of some interest to see how he will proceed if the claims of chemical weapons use are found to be true.