Has Syria crossed chemical ‘red line’?

The Assad regime's use of chemical weapons is announced as a "red line"—the favored metaphor of Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu, now alarmingly accepted by the US media, at least.  Israel yesterday said the line has been crossed. Brigadier-General Itai Brun, head of IDF military intelligence, told an Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv: "There's a huge arsenal of chemical weapons in Syria. Our assessment is that the [Assad] regime has used and is using chemical weapons." Brun cited photographs of victims that showed them foaming at the mouth and with contracted pupils. "To the best of our understanding, there was use of lethal chemical weapons. Which chemical weapons? Probably sarin." And John Kerry, speaking at a NATO meeting in Brussels, called on the alliance to make preparations to respond in the event of chemical weapons threatening a member (meaning Turkey). (The Guardian, April 23)

Israel's political establishment has clearly been divided on whether to give Assad a shove or prop him up as the Devil they know. In the latter camp is the Jewish Policy Center, which accuses the US of "Training Syrian Rebels to Conquer the Golan Heights and Shoot Down Israeli Aircraft"…

More than a year ago, Maj. Gen. Avi Kochavi, chief of IDF Intelligence, warned that al-Qaeda had moved into the buffer zone that separates Israel and Syria, which had been at least nominally in the hands of UN peacekeepers since 1974. Last week, Syrian rebel groups captured 21 Filipino peacekeepers from their Golan Heights enclave and caused others to flee into Israel. Croatia announced that it is removing its 100 soldiers, and Israel fears that others may follow. Kochavi said that should Assad fall, the rebels would aim straight at Israel; Syrian rebel groups agree.

It was Israeli intelligence reports that Assad was moving his chemical weapons that first brought American Special Forces to Turkey and Jordan in 2012, hoping to train Syrian rebels to secure the arsenal before Assad or Hezb'allah moved it to Lebanon or used it. The irony of planning to entrust chemical weapons capability to rebels to whom they wouldn't give guns appears to have escaped the Americans.

British papers report that the US, Britain, and France are now working together with high-ranking Syrian defectors at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center near Amman. EU guidelines on the Syrian arms embargo allow military training as long as the aim is "the protection of civilians." This is nebulous at best, harking back to "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P), the announced basis of American intervention in Libya. Only this time, we're apparently training Syrians to do the protecting, raising the question of what weapons they will use, since the US. doesn't yet admit to providing any.

We have noted before that Israel's leaders have often displayed fear of the Arab Revolutions. We just noted yesterday that Islamophobe (and Israelophile) pundit Daniel Pipes is openly supporting Assad

Assad may actually be attempting to stregnthen this camp within the Israeli elite. Earlier this month, he withdrew troops from the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights—allowing their positions to be occupied by rebel militias (including, we may assume, jihadists). Gunfire from Syria has struck the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan several times, and Israel has retaliated with missile fire three times. (The Forward, April 8)


  1. “Red Line” or empty threat?

    As he has beforePham Binh on The North Star takes on kneejerk "left"-wing alarmism on Syria, in a piece entitled "'Red Line' or empty threat? How the Left Gasses itself on Syria." He points out that despite Syrian forces shelling the territory of NATO member Turkey, providing the perfect pretext for war if anyone wanted  one, it has all come to nothing. Pham says of the gas claims:

    It's not a pretext for a pre-planned invasion because the U.S. does not have the 75,000 troops next door necessary for such an operation and is not moving any divisions nearby either. There will be no American invasion nor occupation of Syria. Period. No doubt this will be a major disappointment to anti-interventionists who have nothing better to do than cry wolf over non-existent grievances, but facts are stubborn things.

    It's also not a pretext for airstrikes under the cover of a no-fly zone; the U.S. Senate voted to order the administration to study the feasibility of a no-fly zone since the administration has insisted for almost two years that "each of these situations [Libya and Syria] is unique" and that a Libya-style military operation is not appropriate.

    The "red line" is an empty threat, political posturing. No more, no less.

    The reality is that, from the standpoint of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, there are no good options or outcomes as a result of the Syrian revolution. Why? Because the revolution is not only popular and democratic but also stridently pro-Palestinian.

    We are wary of making flat-out predictions like "There will be no American invasion nor occupation of Syria." We can foresee circumstances in which things could spiral so far out of control in Syria that the US will be propelled toward military intervention—less due to a mandate to oust Assad than fear that undomesticated forces may succeed him (jihadists or —dare we hope?—secular, democratic anti-imperialists). But we share Pham's assessment that there is currently no agenda to invade or occupy Syria. That seems to be viewed by US elites as a worst-case scenario, at best.