The Israeli military last week stated that Syria’s brutish president, Bashar Assad, used chemical weapons against his own people on March 19 (Please see According to Reports, page 27 ).
“To the best of our understanding, the [Syrian] regime used lethal chemical weapons,” Brig.-Gen. Itai Brun, head of the research and analysis division at the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, told a security conference April 20. Brun believes Assad’s troops had used sarin gas, a nerve agent that cripples the respiratory system. It is vastly more toxic than cyanide, which international convention considers a weapon of mass destruction.
According to Brun, there are more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons in Syria, some of which, such as sarin, can be deployed from artillery rounds and long-range ballistic missiles.
The images of Assad’s victims from the sarin gas attack in Khan el Asal in the province of Aleppo last March were especially horrific (as if other scenes of mass or single killing are somehow less). Their pupils were enlarged, their mouths disgorging foam. The pictures showed the monstrous agony of their excruciatingly painful last moments of life, gasping for breath they could not find.
Thus, to the grotesque heap of the dead and slaughtered in Syria’s civil war, said to total more than 70,000, Assad has added a layer of inhumanity that was not so long ago thought by most experts to be even too much for him.
How wrong those experts were.
Last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated American policy regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s war.
“For the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues,” the president said. His defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, said much the same thing four days earlier while visiting Israel.
But it appears that Washington wants to study the situation at greater length before it decides whether Assad has indeed crossed that line. The administration is worried that it might be compelled to match deed to rhetoric. The concern was made more acute by the assessment on the weekend by Britain’s chief of defence staff, Gen. David Richards, who warned that a full-scale military response would be required to protect Syria’s people from Syria’s ruler.
Israel, however, does not need more time to draw the appropriate conclusions about Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
If, in the multi-party fighting and chaos that now is Syria, chemical weapons find their way to any forces hostile to Israel, the Jewish state will act. The entire West, not just Israel, should try to prevent these weapons from falling into the wrong hands.