Did Syria cross the chemical weapons “red line?”
Pandemonium erupted in Washington on Thursday, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel declared that the U.S. government has evidence of the Syrian regime deploying chemical weapons against its own populace. According to President Obama, using such weapons would cross a “red line” that triggers some greater American involvement in the Syrian crisis.
The White House initially questioned Hagel’s assertion, but then it was discovered they had written a letter to Congress confirming Hagel’s info, as described by Politico:
The White House said in a letter to Congress on Thursday that U.S. intelligence officials believe “with varying degrees of confidence” that Assad has used the nerve agent sarin, based on the results of “physiological samples.” But the administration did not place the U.S. on the brink of military action. Instead, it called for a “comprehensive United Nations investigation” and the need to “establish all the facts” before Washington decides how to proceed.
A White House official told reporters that “all options are on the table in terms of our response,” but did not want to “get into hypotheticals at this juncture.” The official stressed the need for “a strong, firm, evidentiary basis to inform the way we consult our friends and allies.”
Secretary of State John Kerry clarified “there were two documented instances of chemical weapons use,” according to Fox News. The incidents apparently involved small-scale “tactical” uses of sarin gas, in quantities that might have been delivered by an artillery shell.
This led Max Fisher of the Washington Post to wonder why Assad would take the risks associated with deploying a small amount of nerve gas, considering the minimal strategic gain. If it was an accidental release of gas while chemical munitions were being transported, or the action of a rogue field commander, it might not constitute a “red line” violation.
For their part, the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad insists that the rebels are the ones who used weapons of mass destruction.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sees this as a potential game-changer, as quoted by CNN:
“Everything that the non-interventionists said would happen in Syria if we intervened has happened,” he said. “The jihadists are on the ascendency, there is chemical weapons being used, the massacres continue.”
“The president of the United States said that if Bashar Assad used chemical weapons that it would be a game changer, that it would cross a red line,” McCain said. “I think it is pretty obvious that red line has been crossed.”
CNN notes that Israeli intelligence blew the whistle on Syria’s use of banned weapons a few days ago. “I think the United States, and us, and others will do whatever we can to meet this very dangerous weapon, the sooner the better,” said Israeli president Shimon Peres.
The BBC adds, “It is understood that Britain obtained samples from inside Syria which have been tested by the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, Wiltshire,” and the Foreign Office claims the samples tested positive for sarin gas.