Last month at a meeting in Israel, President Obama defined his "game changer" on American involvement in the Syrian civil war as Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his people. Today in Israel, a major Israeli military intelligence official said that Assad had done just that. With British and French officials appearing to believe the same, is the game about to change? "To the best of our professional understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons against the militants in a series of incidents over the past months, including the relatively famous incident of March 19," Gen. Itai Brun, the head of research and analysis in Israeli military intelligence, told reporters at a security conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. "Shrunken pupils, foaming at the mouth and other signs indicate, in our view, that lethal chemical weapons were used." Put more simply:
Head of Military Intelligence Research at INSS conference: "Assad is using chemical weapons in Syria."— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) April 23, 2013
March 19, of course, was that rare moment when both the Syrian regime and Syrian opposition actually agreed on something: that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Aleppo. The only thing they didn't agree on was who used them. This set off a flurry of diplomatic scrambling on a thin (if vague) red line, from Republicans calling for ground troops to President Obama calling the use of chemical weapons a "game changer" the very next day, despite his insistance that he remained "deeply skeptical of any claim that in fact it was the opposition that used chemical weapons." Now Brun, a longtime military intelligence operative, is trying to change the game — at least rhetorically, and even chemically: According to CBS News, Brun says the highly lethal nerve agent sarin was turned against the Syrian people.
Brun's comments come around 10 days after British military scientists claimed they had "hard evidence" that chemical weapons had been used in Syria based on soil samples from an area near Damascus. (The Syrian capital is a solid four hours to Aleppo, so that could be separate from the alleged March 19 attack.) And the Israeli official's assertion arrives on the international stage around five days removed from a report by Britain and France to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, stating that "Syria has used chemical weapons on more than one occasion since December," The Washington Post reported.
Now the question is if these revelations about Assad's use of chemical weapons are enough to move the needle on the current American policy in the region. Obama has they would. Back in August, Obama had stated:
We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
At his March 20 press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama clarified, seeming to tweak his equation to those weapons being moved around by the Assad regime and saying that "once we establish the facts, I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer." The next step, then, may be more scientific than rhetorical.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.