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Intel on chemical weapons allegedly fired by command of Assad’s brother came from Israel

Map: CIA World Fact BookAmericans await word from President Barack Obama about possible intervention in the civil war in Syria, with media around the world crediting Israeli intelligence for information about the use of chemical weapons.

Recent reports of such weapons are the second time intelligence has indicated they were used; reports also indicated the same in March.

Channel 2 in Israel said the weapons “were fired from a military base in a mountain range to the west of Damascus.” President Bashar Assad’s brother Maher Assad allegedly commanded the Syrian Army division in charge of the weapons.

Meanwhile Iranian officials threatened retaliation if the U.S. intervenes, specifically targeting Israel.

The Times of Israel said:

Israeli military officials have indicated they believe it unlikely that Syria would target Israel if the US or others intervened, because an Israeli response could bring down the Assad regime, but Israel has reportedly been taking security precautions just in case.

Determining the makeup of the opposition and assessing the risks involved have challenged the administration of President Barack Obama. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, in October 2012, was challenged by the political currents in Syria as well—she noted that some in Washington believed Assad to be a “reformer.” Mrs. Clinton’s nuanced remarks during a TV appearance suggested she had few quibbles with that assessment, leading to charges by numerous conservatives that she had called Assad a “reformer.” In a sense she did, by default.

Whatever the case, Mrs. Clinton misjudged the progression of violence in Syria. Her remarks on the TV show reflect a muddled assessment of the country’s state where at present the group called the Free Syrian Army is attempting to seize power.

Non-interventionist Michael Scheuer, an expert with CIA service and the original head of the unit devoted to tracking Osama bin Laden during the administration of Bill Clinton, believes any effort in Syria on the part of the U.S. would strictly be to benefit Israel. Terming the matter “Israel First,” Scheuer wrote:

“Truth to tell, King Obama, Kerry, Susan Rice, McCain, Graham, the Brits Cameron and Hague, and most members of the House and the Senate could not give less of damn either about the dead Syrians or the weapons that killed them.”

On the other hand, experts like Dr. Walid Phares believe Syria is a global threat, because of the country’s alliance with Hezbollah and Iran. Phares is one of the few (if not the only) experts to acknowledge risks inherent in helping Assad’s opponents who are also believed to include members of al Qaeda. Phares, however, does see a pathway, but it’s one the Obama administration isn’t likely to take:

"[I]f Washington decides to strike at the chemical weapons system in Syria, we should not be afraid. In fact this should have been done long time ago. But the US should be aware that once it engages in hostilities it must be prepared for a long term engagement and calculate the strategic reaction by Syria and its allies." Phares said "the most important in this challenge is to raise a Syrian force which would defeat Assad and defeat al Qaeda. If Washington doesn't have such a design, it will be counter productive."

Many experts have noted that delaying addressing the problems in Syria contributed to the current conflagration.

The Obama administration has, for some reason, made public announcements about the military response, leading to widespread criticism about leaks.

As debate ensued across the U.S., another topic of concern involved whether Obama could decide to intervene in Syria without consulting Congress. Sen. John McCain, a longtime advocate for intervention in Syria, told Fox and Friends on Wednesday the War Powers Act is “murky.” However, a literal reading of that Act as well as a memorandum by the Bush administration suggests Obama needs Congressional consent to use military force.

The use of force and Congressional approval for the same have comprised major topics of debate in various U.S. elections. The dilemma over Congressional approval might be sensitive for the Obama administration. In 2007 then Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) threatened to impeach President George W. Bush if action against Iran was taken without Congressional approval. At that time, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

Any strike against Syria at this point in time is likely to be short-lived and more like a rap on the knuckles. Assad must be fully aware of details provided to U.S. media, and Obama continues to maintain a “no boots on the ground” policy making it impossible to destroy any chemical weapons that might be on the ground.

The United Nations has been of little use, other than initiating conversations with diplomats and officials. On Tuesday a UN team sent to inspect sites for evidence of chemical weapons came under sniper fire. Subsequently the team postponed a visit to a second site during what is expected to be a 2-week stay in the war torn country.

Meanwhile the Syrian Arab News Agency allied with the Assad regime reported the Foreign Minister denied chemical weapons have been used.

An unreported footnote to the Syrian crisis involves trade. In a prescient move, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called attention to the Syrian regime in a letter to Florida Sec. of State Ken Detzner. In a letter, Scott noted the dilemma for states regarding trade, saying the Syrian and Cuban regimes "are no better than the Iranian and Sudanese regimes." Scott's letter is dated May 1, 2012.

(Filed by Kay B. Day/Aug. 28, 2013)

Read archived articles about Syria at The US Report.

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