Anxiety is increasing about the prospect of a desperate Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his rapidly proliferating enemies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Assad that such chemical weapons use would cross a U.S. red line: "I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action."
This new level of anxiety was prompted by reports that Assad's forces have been moving chemical weapons, according to David Sanger and Eric Schmitt in The Times. They report that one American official told them that "the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation," though the official "declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed."
The U.S. is not the only country worried about the possible use of chemical weapons. Intelligence officials in two countries told me recently that the Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government with a plan to take out many of Syria's chemical weapons sites. According to these two officials, Israel has been seeking Jordan's "permission" to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.
Of course, Israel can attack these sites without Jordanian approval (in 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor), but one official told me that the Israelis are concerned about the possible repercussions of such an attack on Jordan. "A number of sites are not far from the border," he said, further explaining: "The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack." Intelligence sources told me that Israeli drones are patrolling the skies over the Jordan-Syria border, and that both American and Israeli drones are keeping watch over suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites.
He went on to provide context of the Israeli request: "You know the Israelis -- sometimes they want to bomb right away. But they were told that from the Jordanian perspective, the time was not right." The Israeli requests were made in the last two months, communicated by Mossad intermediaries dispatched by Prime Minister Netanyahu's office, according to these sources. (I asked the Israeli embassy in Washington for comment on this, but received no answer.)
Jordan and Israel closely cooperate on security matters, and Jordan itself has become a hub of anti-Assad activity. Sources told me that the U.S., Jordan and their Arab Gulf allies have established a "war room" coordinated by the Jordanian General Intelligence Department (GID), which is organizing efforts to screen Syrian militants for jihadist sympathies, and to provide those without jihadist connections or proclivities with training and equipment. The "war room" was established in part to counter the influence of Turkish and Qatari supporters of more religiously militant anti-Assad fighters. Jordanian intelligence is also concerned about the Syrian regime infiltrating sleeper agents into the main Syrian refugee camp in Jordan near Zaatari, and into Jordanian cities, which are already temporary home to tens of thousands of refugees.