Syrian rebels: Assad used chemical weapons again -- just yesterday

With all the whispers about sarin lately from western intelligence, you’d think Assad might ease off for awhile so as not to put extra pressure on Obama to act at a moment of rising public interest. Nope — if a pro-rebel group is to be believed.

On Thursday, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), a U.S.-based advocacy organization that has pressed Obama to provide the Syrian opposition with advanced weapons, issued a report that said two chemical weapons attacks were conducted on April 25 in the southern part of Daraya, a suburb of Damascus. One doctor working from the Daraya medical center said 75 victims were treated for symptoms including “muscle spasms, bronchial spasms, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and miosis” following a 1 a.m. rocket strike. Another 25 victims were sent to the medical center complaining of similar symptoms when a second attack hit the area at 7 a.m. local time, according to the SSG and a statement from the local coordinating council of Dariya, a media group affiliated with the Syrian opposition…

The SSG, one of the first to report on the March 19 attacks, said victims of Thursday’s chemical strike exhibited symptoms similar to those March 19 attacks, in which rebel groups claimed the regime used weapons armed with echothiophate—an organophosphate similar to Sarin…

Two U.S. officials who work on Syria policy tell The Daily Beast that assessments from three allied services—France, Israel and the United Kingdom—are not ironclad and leave room for interpretation. “The French and the British assessment are squishy,” one of these officials said. The Israeli assessment is largely based on photo analysis, another official said, pointing out that photographic analysis is not as solid as other kinds of evidence.

Another U.S. intelligence official, however, disputed this view. “The British have soil samples,” this official said. “When you have the Israelis, the French, the British and even some of our Arab friends saying this happened, I don’t know what the White House is really waiting for.”

That’s from Eli Lake, noting that yesterday’s attacks are, of course, unconfirmed. As for evidence of prior attacks, according to Danger Room, it’s not true that western intel is limited to soil samples. Supposedly they have blood samples from multiple victims of the alleged March 19 attack in Aleppo, all showing the presence of either sarin or something awfully similar to it. If you want to see what that looks like, watch the two videos below via the NYT. One of the victims says in the video, “Missiles came and they exploded, and they discharged something like water, but it was dark. It emitted a very foul smell.” The man/child in the first clip seems glassy-eyed and either has mucous on his face or, maybe, some residue from frothing at the mouth, a symptom mentioned by one of the IDF’s intelligence experts in accusing Assad of using sarin a few days ago. The man in the second clip appears to have some sort of facial burn, and looks dead.

One theory mentioned in my post yesterday was that the IDF gaffed by announcing their WMD suspicions publicly at a moment when the White House was huddling over what to do. Was it a gaffe, or was it done deliberately to pressure Obama to act? New evidence for the latter theory:

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zev Elkin, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that world powers may now conclude that there was “no avoiding” action to take control of Assad’s chemical stockpile…

Reuters reported that Elkin told Israel’s Army Radio on Friday that “there is a question here of when you set a red line, do you stand behind it?”

“Now that the Americans’ red line has apparently been crossed, there is a test,” he added. “It is clear that if the United States wants to and the international community wants to, it could act – inter alia, militarily – to take control of the chemical weapons, and then all the fears … will not be relevant.”

At RCP, Greg Scoblete ticks off four reasons why intervention is a bad idea, culminating in the argument that while Obama might well be a moron for having issued a “red line” ultimatum that he’s not prepared to enforce, that’s not a good enough reason to wade into a clusterfark that involves a dictator fighting Al Qaeda fighting Hezbollah fighting the Muslim Brotherhood fighting Iran. If Israel’s nudging the U.S. to side with the rebels, though, it must be because they’ve concluded Assad’s hold on power has now slipped to the point where WMD stockpiles going loose is a real possibility, such that they’re willing trade a quicker victory for the Islamist factions next door if it means securing chemical weapons that might eventually be used against Israel.

Exit question: Why, exactly, did Obama announce the “red line” in the first place if he wasn’t serious about it? Ninety percent of the arguments coming from the McCains and Grahams of the world right now is that he’s obliged to intervene simply to protect U.S. credibility and show the world that when the president issues an ultimatum, he means it. If O hadn’t declared the “red line” — which he didn’t have to do formally, given the taboo that already exists for WMD — he’d have more room to maneuver now. Think he’ll be announcing any more red lines before the end of his term?

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