JERUSALEM, Israel — At a news conference Tuesday, President Obama said he still hasn’t determined whether Syria crossed a “red line” with a chemical weapons attack in March.
The president suggested he would consider military action against Syria if the United States can confirm President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his people.
But a number of U.S. allies — and enemies — are intently following Washington’s response to the threat. No one has more at stake than Israel.
Syrian opposition groups released a video showing dozens of people they say were killed or sickened in a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government. Back in March, Obama issued a warning:
“To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line, and that is going to be a game-changer,” the president said.
Since then, British, French and Israeli intelligence all concluded that the Assad government did conduct a chemical attack, and last week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed. But the White House is still reluctant to call it a game changer for the United States in Syria.
“Now we are working to establish credible and corroborated facts to build on this intelligence assessment in order to establish a definitive judgment as to whether the president’s red line has been crossed and to inform our decision-making about next steps,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
Israeli Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer says both U.S. friends and foes in the region are watching.
“It’s now very apparent that the regime has used chemical weapons on a number of occasions, which means that if the United States now fails to act on its clear red line, then of course, conclusions will be drawn in that regard by all other players in the region, including some players very hostile to the United States — including Iran,” Spyer, a senior research fellow at the GLORIA Center, told CBN News.
One option in the U.S. arsenal: air or sea strikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities and production plants, which are scattered throughout the country. But that’s a subject the administration won’t address in the media.
“My role is to present to the president — and my responsibility — options for any contingency,” Hagel said. “I won’t speculate on those options nor publicly discuss those options.”
Obama’s red line on Syria is a big enough problem for the Middle East. But in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to deal with an even more dangerous red line: the one leading to a nuclear Iran.
“A red line should be drawn right here, before — before Iran can reach the stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb,” Netanyahu said.
Just months after Netanyahu’s “red line” speech to the United Nations last fall, former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin said Iran has now crossed that red line or is at least right at the threshold.