The Post reports: “Israeli forces have carried out an airstrike against a shipment of sophisticated missiles bound for the Lebanese political and military organization Hezbollah, officials in Washington, Lebanon and Israel told reporters Saturday…. Lebanese authorities and residents had already reported unusually intense Israeli overflights during the previous 48 hours, suggesting the warplanes may have struck their target from Lebanese airspace.” Israeli planes struck again on Sunday outside Damascus.
So much for the suggestion by critics of stronger U.S. action that Syria’s anti-aircraft system is formidable. It seems someone in the Israeli government took a not-too-subtle swipe at the Obama administration’s equivocating on Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. “Israeli officials described the missiles targeted in the Friday strike as ‘game-changing’ weapons, according to the Associated Press. They said they were not chemical weapons, but advanced, long-range, ground-to-ground missiles.” Translation: When Israel draws a red line, it means it.
Not only does the Israeli action contrast with the U.S. government’s fecklessness, but it also raises the issue of whether the United States would prefer Israel police the Middle East. It is unbecoming for a superpower to let little Israel take on the Iranian surrogates. It will likely unnerve our allies elsewhere and embolden foes in other parts of the world.
As for the Middle East, when a U.S. president is this passive and unwilling to act in accord with its words, the West and the Sunni states can take comfort in knowing that Israel is there to rein in the mullahs and their surrogates.
Two other events are significant. Both emphasize the degree to which American reticence is tipping the balance of power in the region toward Iran.
Obama is right not to rush to war, given our checkered past on the use of chemical weapons and the sinkhole of hatreds in Syria, writes Leslie H Gelb
Of course, we Americans think it’s horrible for any nation to use chemical weapons - except when we don’t. And of course, we want to punish any user of chemical weapons - except when we don’t. And of course, many now screaming against Syria’s likely use of chemical weapons against their rebels didn’t do much complaining when Iraq hurled these internationally banned gases against Iran and its own Kurdish people in the 1980s. And of course, American interventionists now demand U.S. military action against the Syrian government. But America’s history on chemical weapons is littered with mistakes and hypocrisy, and Syria itself is a bottomless pit of hatreds that can’t be “fixed” by more and more outside military force. And so, President Obama now correctly applies the brakes on further military action until the world knows for sure who did what, when and how with these horrible gasses, and until he figures out what the U.S. can do that won’t make the situation worse.
Yes, Mr. Obama was wrong to declare Syria’s use of poison gases to be a “red line” that required U.S. military action. Presidents should say such things only when they’re absolutely sure they will act accordingly. He wasn’t sure and still isn’t. But he’s right to count to ten now before he does something irretrievably stupid. We aren’t yet certain exactly what happened. We aren’t confident whether taking direct military action will bring the civil war to a speedier end or make it bloodier still. And we have no idea what we would do if initial U.S. military moves fail.
I should make clear at the outset that I’m flat opposed to the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. I’m also for responding strongly. But a country’s use of chemical weapons doesn’t give Washington license to do something stupid. If it made no sense for Washington to start arming the Syrian rebels before President Assad crossed the chemical-weapons line, U.S. arms for the rebels probably still isn’t justified today. Other preferable ways to respond - such as a cruise missile attack against Assad’s palace (in essence a warning shot) - wouldn’t commit Washington to further action without further cause.
How to respond is no easy matter, and Americans have a way of forgetting history’s instructions; others don’t. Here’s some unpleasant history.
The United States believes with varying degrees of confidence that Syria’s regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, the White House said on Thursday.
But it added that President Barack Obama needed “credible and corroborated” facts before acting on that assessment.
The disclosure, made by the White House in a letter to Congress and by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reporters, moves the United States closer to declaring that Syria has crossed Obama’s “red line” on some kind of deeper involvement in the country’s civil war.
The White House has not specified what action Obama might take if he determines with certainty that Syria has crossed that red line with any chemical weapons use. But in its letter to lawmakers, it warned it was ready to respond.
“The administration is prepared for all contingencies so that we can respond appropriately to any confirmed use of chemical weapons, consistent with our national interest,” Miguel Rodriguez, White House director of the office of legislative affairs, said in a letter to lawmakers.
The White House said the assessment that Syria’s regime had used chemical weapons - specifically the chemical agent sarin - was based in part on physiological samples.
“The intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue and the decision to reach this conclusion was made in the past 24 hours,” Hagel told reporters in Abu Dhabi.
President Obama has warned the Syrian government that any use of chemical weapons in its ongoing civil war would “cross a red line.” Two questions come to mind: What will Obama (and other world leaders) do if the line is crossed? And given that Syrian president Bashar Assad has already killed more than 40,000 of his own people through more conventional methods, what’s the big deal about chemicals? Why should they trigger alarms that his heinous acts to date have not?
NBC News reported this week that Syrian military officers have loaded the precursor agents for sarin, a particularly lethal nerve gas, into bombs that could be dropped from dozens of combat aircraft. Syria has stockpiled roughly 500 tons of the stuff; anyone exposed to a mere one-tenth of a gram would likely die. In short, if Assad wanted, he could turn whole cities into wastelands.
That is one reason why chemical weapons, especially these chemical weapons, are viewed as something qualitatively different. It’s why they are designated “weapons of mass destruction” (even if they’re less destructive than their biological or nuclear cousins) and why 188 nations signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, outlawing their use, production, or stockpiling. (Syria is one of just six nations not to sign the treaty, the others being Angola, Egypt, North Korea, Somalia, and South Sudan.)
So a bright red line separates chemical weapons from conventional munitions for moral, humanitarian, and legal reasons. Not just Obama but the leaders of the other signatory nations have an obligation to respond in some very serious fashion if Assad crosses the line—to send the clear message, to everyone, that the use of these weapons is completely unacceptable.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Thursday that Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb by next summer and urged the world the draw a clear “red line” to stop it in its tracks.
Flashing a diagram showing the progress Iran has made, he said it was getting “late, very late” to stop Iran.
“Red lines don’t lead to war, red lines prevent war,” he said. “Nothing could imperil the world more than a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Netanyahu said Iran had completed the first stage of uranium enrichment.
“Iran is 70 percent of the way there and … well into the second stage. By next summer, at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage,” Netanyahu said. “From there it is only a few more weeks before they have enriched enough for a bomb.”
Netanyahu has repeatedly argued that time is running out to stop the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear power and the threat of force must be seriously considered.
“I believe that faced with a clear red line, Iran will back down — and it will give more time for sanctions and diplomacy,” the Israeli prime minister said.