President Barack Obama has treated the bloody Syrian conflict like a
geopolitical Pandora’s box that he dare not touch; his administration’s red line
for a comprehensive US response has until now centered on solid proof of
chemical weapon use by Damascus.
But even as evidence of chemical weapon
attacks by Assad’s regime continues to mount, forcing US acknowledgement, it has
become clear the Obama administration’s red line has been scrubbed white.
Meanwhile, the almost four-decade period of silence in the Golan Heights is
rapidly being replaced by echoes of a too-close civil war.
recent massacre to spark international discussion occurred as reports indicated
a chemical weapon attack on March 19 in Aleppo’s northern province of Khan
al-Asal; both the FSA and the Assad regime immediately blamed each other for the
attack. Reportedly, two Scud-like missiles were launched toward civilians,
massacring over two dozen and wounding others.
At a press conference in
Israel in March, President Obama denied claims of chemical weapon usage. He did,
however, decry “deeply skeptical” regime claims of rebel usage, citing a lack of
capability to launch such an attack. It is notable to point out he refused to
verify claims of chemical weapons usage while standing several feet from Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – whose own official verified the chemical weapons
claims earlier that same day.
Israel’s minister of intelligence and
strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, acknowledged chemical weapons had been used,
stating that “it is apparently clear” the Syrian regime had done so.
US officials have vaguely acknowledged evidence of chemical weapon usage by the
Assad regime with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stating, US intelligence has
confirmed usage with “varying degrees of confidence.”
discussion of red lines and admonishments of disgust continue to ricochet around
the press circuit, the mere fact that there was an international scramble to
assess if chemical weapons were used should have prompted a much quicker
response from DC, but it has not.
The latest report of Israeli
confirmation (and perhaps veiled criticism of US inertia) came on April 23 in
Tel Aviv during a security conference at the Institute for National Security
Studies. Israel’s head of the Research and Analysis Division at the IDF Military
Intelligence Directorate Brig.-Gen.
Itai Brun announced that it was a
“fact” that chemical weapons were used and that moreover, Syria has over 1,000
metric tons of chemical weapons.
In the colorful mosaic of reasons to
more comprehensively play a role in the transition of power in Syria, one of the
brightest pieces pertains to international security – especially Israel’s.
Already, Israel has begrudgingly involved itself in the Syrian conflict by
occasionally retaliating for shelling and gunfire spillovers. In late January,
Israel bombed a weapons caravan that in all likelihood was creeping toward
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of the ongoing cycle of
tenuous gains being made by the Free Syrian Army throughout Syria, only to be
met with deadly Assad force blowback, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels like Jabhat
al-Nusra and the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade inch closer to the border with Israel;
potentially deadly spillover is no longer a remote possibility, it’s a near
Despite Israel’s vigilance, with continued US
inertia a scenario where the Assad regime’s unsecured weaponry falls into the
hands of Hezbollah or an al-Qaida affiliate grows increasingly likely. Further,
attempts by the Assad regime to transfer weapons to secure locales in Lebanon
remain imminent, which in turn guarantees an Israeli response.
despite President Obama’s continued push for diplomatic talks with Iran,
Netanyahu appears unlikely to depart from his commitment regarding a preemptive
strike. Here is where DC misses a pivotal and strategic opportunity: helping to
defeat the Assad regime could in turn effectively cut off the Iranian limb of
Hezbollah that would undoubtedly attempt to stretch out a hand over Israel in
case of a strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
If Iran can no longer
utilize Syria to transport weapons to Hezbollah and train militants, the entire
trifecta could dissipate.
President Obama’s wait-and-see approach to
Syria has not been met with nearly as much criticism as it should; US inertia on
Syria has been buoyed by domestic and collective reluctance stemming from vivid
memories of past failures in the Middle East; this perspective will continue to
prove short-sighted as the Levant becomes increasingly destabilized and the US
grows more inclined to thwart a potentially future jihadist state on the border
of its greatest ally.
The fears of US-provided weapons in jihadist hands
are relevant, but as Assad’s weaponry becomes increasingly unsecured it makes
little sense as to why those weapons would not also be up for grabs.
the bloody conflict continues to unravel the last remnants of stability in
Syria, the Obama administration’s hesitation to act on its own red line harms
not only credibility with the Syrian people, but jeopardizes the security of
President Obama’s wait-and-see approach was only
acceptable when the imaginable unknowns seemed scarier than the unfolding
reality; this is clearly no longer the case.The writer is a freelance
geopolitical analyst currently based in Tel Aviv who has written for The Times
of Israel, Ynet, Hurriyet Daily and others.