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A member of the Free Syrian Army holds his weapon as he sits on a sofa in the middle of a street in Deir al-Zor, in this April 2, 2013, file photo. The United States believes with varying degrees of confidence that Syria’s regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, the White House said last Thursday. (STRINGER/REUTERS)
A member of the Free Syrian Army holds his weapon as he sits on a sofa in the middle of a street in Deir al-Zor, in this April 2, 2013, file photo. The United States believes with varying degrees of confidence that Syria’s regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale, the White House said last Thursday. (STRINGER/REUTERS)

Stephen Starr

The debate over chemical weapons in Syria gets real Add to ...

Military brass and politicians from Tel Aviv to Washington are clamouring to decide whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria over the past number of months.

The accusations Activists say two attacks took place in and near Aleppo in March and earlier this month, one outside Damascus in March and one in Homs late last year.

According to AFP: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told his ministers to keep silent about Syria to avoid the impressi on Israel is pushing the international community into armed intervention, army radio has reported. Netanyahu gave the instructions after Zeev Elkin, the deputy foreign minister, suggested the international community might react militarily to “take control of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal.” The political commentator said on military radio that “US hesitancy over the Syrian issue in the last few days, however, is causing a great deal of worry in Israel”

“If Barack Obama does not respect the red lines that he set out himself and does not intervene when Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians, it is showing weaknesses that could cost it dearly later in Syria, but also in the Iranian nuclear question,” the commentator said of the U.S. President.

According to Al Arabiya , a defected Syrian general said the Syrian army has, indeed, ordered the use of chemical weapons. “I was given orders to execute the use of poisonous chemicals in caves and tunnels that are used by the Free Syrian Army, but I mixed all chemicals with water and used Javel water instead,” said Zahir Sakit.

The uncertainty

But speaking on April 23, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “The information that I have at this point does not confirm it to me (in a manner) that I would feel comfortable commenting on it as a fact.” The White House cautioned that the “chain of custody” on what chemical weapons were used, and by whom, was unclear.

While at the Jerusalem Post annual conference on Sunday, former Mossad director Meir Dagan said he didn’t believe the Syrian regime was responsible for chemical weapons use largely because in the incidents reported chemicals had been used in small quantities.

U.S. Senator John McCain, a long time champion of the drive to arm certain Syrian rebels, said: “There are a number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists.” Mr. McCain’s point to U.S. television that “The president drew red lines about chemical weapons, thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that” resonates with the many Syrian activists and opposition figures who have been calling for the arming of the so-called Free Syrian Army of over a year.

But the chemical elephant in the room clearly needs to be confronted by someone, sometime.

Campbell Clark of The Globe writes that Canada will provide $2-million in funding to help secure the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stash.

And a report from last year suggesting the Syrian government had set up mobile chemical weapons units that could conceivably be moved over the border to Lebanon via Hezbollah and perhaps become untraceable, is a possibility that frightens many.

Sitting in Cyprus for three weeks is the team of UN chemicals weapons inspectors that was at first allowed, and later denied, entry to Syria by the government in Damascus following the apparent Aleppo chemical attack in March.

But the political machine in the U.S. is beginning to rumble.

Speaking to CBS News’ “Face The Nation” on Sunday, U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham said: “there’s a growing consensus in the U.S. Senate that the United States should get involved” in Syria.

And on CBC News last Thursday, Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East politics at the London School of Politics, said he believes the American juggernaut is coming to this Middle East country. A long-time and smart observer of the Syrian regime and the ongoing revolt-turned-war, he said: “We will see American military intervention sooner rather than later.”

Follow on Twitter: @stephenstarr

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