After several days of stuttering about a lack of proof and not wanting to rely on the intelligence of a foreign country, the US Secretary of Defense has admitted that it appears Syria has used a few chemical weapons.
Thus the US comes into line with Israeli and European intelligence analysts that Assad has crossed a red line.
Condemnation is a certainty.
Anything more is worthy of an argument.
On the one hand, chemical weapons fall into the category of WMDs, weapons of mass destruction. Their use is widely viewed as barbaric. But more barbaric than the shelling of civilian neighborhoods that Assad and his opponents have been doing for some time, ratcheting up the casualties to guesstimates of 70- to more than 100,000 deaths, who knows how many wounded, and several hundred thousand refugees miserable in camps over the borders of Jordan and Turkey?
Should the US or any other force intervene?
On whose side?
There are several of those.
Assad''s official government army and other operatives are widely viewed as the bad guys, but no less problematic are groups of Islamic extremists aspiring to take control and occasionally doing battle with other opponents who outsiders hope would be more moderate if they get control. Moreover, Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon are in action on Assad''s side, with Iran involved in trying to prop up its major alley via money, munitions and troops.
One can only admire Barack Obama for his reluctance to get involved. It doesn''t take a genius to see another Iraq in the making. That is, chaos in a land historically split between ethnic and religious competitors, left without an effective central government. Iraq''s civil war is ongoing despite American claims of having settled things before they left.
However, there is that issue of chemical weapons, with at least symbolic weight in international politics, and expectations that the US will back up its words. Or be viewed as a toothless tiger, whose current president is only able to roar out expressions that are politically correct.
Important here is Iran. Should Obama rest with a condemnation of Assad, all the pressure and payoffs to Israel in order to acquire its cooperation will be weighed again by a Prime Minister who has staked his own reputation on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Not to be discounted is the possibility that Netanyahu''s roars are no more meaningful than Obama''s, even though they are often expressed in the Lord''s language.
Events in Syria have several other implications for Israel, those watching it, and hoping that it behaves.
Hezbollah''s involvement in Syria and the weakening of Syria has implications for Lebanon, with early signs of what may be another civil war with the Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Druze (or some of each) doing what they can to reduce the power of Hezbollah and the Shi''ite Muslims.
There is also the prospect of Hezbollah getting control of Assad''s weapons, including the chemical stuff, and bringing them home to Lebanon in order to strengthen itself there, maybe by using them against Israel.
That''s another red line that Bibi will have to consider while he''s thinking about Iran and American promises.
Moreover, the entire picture of Syria, no matter how it develops, puts the issue of Palestine even further from Israel''s front burner. No government imaginable is likely to make territorial or important other concessions to Palestinians while so much is unsettled just over its northern borders, with all the weaponry of Assad capable of falling into highly unstable hands. Whatever Americans say about the need to accommodate Palestinians, which for years has been viewed as lip service, will not gain weight as long as Syria looks as bad as it does, and the word of the American president on Syrian use of chemical weapons looks even more certainly like lip service.
Not all is bleak on the Palestinian front.
To see some light, however, it is necessary to discard conventional expectations and take another look at reality.
While it is common to dump on Israel for not accommodating Palestinians'' demands for a state of their own, the reality is that the Palestinians'' major problems are with themselves, and not with Israel.
Israel, the US and Jordan have been cooperating to prop up the West Bank Palestinian regime, with Israel doing most of the dirty work of dealing with Islamic extremists who would topple Abbas in a minute if he did not have outside help.
Those in favor of clean and transparent government must wink at the reality, insofar as the West Bank President has remained in office for more than four years without an election since his term expired, corruption remains serious despite efforts by the perhaps former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. "Perhaps former" is an appropriate qualification. He has resigned yet again. This time Abbas has accepted his resignation, but the realities are, as usual, not clear in a Palestinian regime that is anything but transparent. And despite claims of Thomas Friedman that Fayyad has cleaned house and has suffered from Israel''s lack of cooperation, Palestine (West Bank) remains a place where lots of old men connected by family or politics to the President squabble over jobs and the money and that comes mostly from outside donors.
Palestine (West Bank) is more prosperous and calmer than a decade ago, thanks partly to Fayyad with the help of Israel and others. But not entirely calm. Events like those at the Boston Marathon are a daily experience, by way of efforts if not the successes of those wanting to kill Jews or other Arabs.
The Middle East is not the Middle West, although residents of the Middle West may not be all that secure despite their distance from 9-11 and Boston.
None of this fits neatly into aspirations or the images promoted by politicians and their chorus of media supporters. And it ain''t likely to be fixed by the White House and State Department calling for peace and order in a distant part of the world, but not knowing how to bring them about.