Bloomberg reports: The powerful brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is suspected of authorizing the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, according to a United Nations official who monitors armed conflicts in the region.
Maher al-Assad, the younger brother of the president, commands the regime’s Republican Guard and controls the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, an elite unit that the opposition says launched the Aug. 21 attack on the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
The use of chemical weapons may have been a brash action by Maher al-Assad rather than a strategic decision by the president, according to the UN official, who asked not to be named.
Identifying the chain of command behind the chemical attack would go into calculations about who, what and how to strike in any retaliatory action, the UN official said. If Maher al-Assad is the culprit, for example, a Republican Guard stronghold may be targeted rather than a presidential facility, the official said.
Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, doubts that such an important action — openly defying U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons — would be done without Bashar al-Assad’s approval. [Continue reading…]