Following reports of the latest Israeli air strike on Syria, the New York Times says: The Israeli attack came as the Obama administration — as part of its examination of possible responses to obtaining conclusive proof that Mr. Assad has used chemical weapons — is considering military options with allies. Those options include attacking Syria’s antiaircraft systems, military aircraft and some of its missile fleet, according to senior officials from several countries.
Those officials say that attacking the chemical stockpiles directly has been all but ruled out. “You could cause exactly the disaster you are trying to prevent,” a senior Israeli military official said in an interview last week in Tel Aviv.
But attacking Mr. Assad’s main delivery systems, the officials say, would curtail his ability to transport those weapons any significant distance. “This wouldn’t stop him from using it on a village, or just releasing it on the ground, or handing something to Hezbollah,” said one European official who has been involved in the conversations. “But it would limit the damage greatly.”
The topic was alluded to on Thursday, when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with his British counterpart and talked about “the need for new options” if Mr. Assad used his chemical arsenal, the officials said. But while the military has been developing and refining options for the White House for months, the discussion appears to have taken a new turn, officials say, in the struggle to determine whether the suspected use of sarin gas near Aleppo and Damascus last month was a prelude to greater use of such weapons.
“There are a lot of options on the table, and they’re generally carrying equal weight at the moment,” a senior administration official said Friday. He declined to discuss the others, though Mr. Hagel talked on Thursday about arming rebel groups
So far, President Obama has been reluctant to get involved in the Syrian conflict. He has ruled out placing American forces on the ground, a stance he reiterated on Friday at a new conference in San José, Costa Rica, where he was meeting with Latin American leaders.
Mr. Obama told reporters he did not foresee a situation in which “American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America but also would be good for Syria,” adding that he had consulted with leaders in the Mideast who agree.
When asked in recent days whether recent evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria crossed the “red line” he set in August, Mr. Obama described questions he would need to have answered — including when and how chemical weapons were used — before he would take action. Even then, he made clear, he may choose something well short of military action.
By Israeli estimates, Syria has 15 to 20 major chemical weapons sites, many near airfields that would make transport by plane relatively easy. Military planners say they would want to avoid hitting the chemicals for fear of creating toxic sites that could injure or kill civilians.
Ideally, one American commander said, the stockpiles would be surrounded, protected and then incinerated, much as the United States has done with its chemical arsenal. But that takes years, and as one official said, “We don’t have years, and we can’t keep troops there.”
That is why attacking the delivery systems seems like the next best option to many in the administration. Israel was believed to be behind an attack on some Syrian missiles in February as they were about to be transported, presumably to Hezbollah. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers that a Hezbollah missile attack, using chemical weapons, was one of his chief concerns. [Continue reading…]