Syria Used Chemical Arms, Israel Says

"The regime has used deadly chemical weapons against armed rebels on a number of occasions"

From Adam Entous, Joshua Mitnick, and Stephen Fidler, Wall Street Journal:  The Syrian army has used lethal chemical weapons during the country’s civil war, Israel’s top military intelligence analyst said Tuesday , heightening pressure on the White House to intervene more directly against strongman Bashar-al Assad.

"According to our professional assessment, the regime has used deadly chemical weapons against armed rebels on a number of occasions in the past few months," said Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, who heads the research division of Israel’s intelligence branch.

Israel’s first public allegation of Syrian chemical-weapons use followed disclosures last week that Britain and France believe they have credible evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons in small amounts.

U.S. officials said they were investigating the allegation. But they quickly voiced strong caution about the assessment—which, if borne out, could force the U.S. to make good on its threats to take action if Syria’s government were to use chemical weapons against its people. A senior U.S. defense official played down what he called "low-confidence assessments by foreign governments" and said it would take time to reach a U.S. determination that could be the basis for U.S. action.

That sharp response appeared to convey a U.S. government caught off guard. Gen. Brun delivered his assessment at a security conference in Tel Aviv just as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was wrapping up two days of meetings with Israel’s civilian and military leaders. His agenda was topped by talks on Iran and on strengthening coordination over the security of Syria’s chemical weapons.

President Barack Obama has sought to keep the U.S. out of the two-year-old conflict in Syria. But he has explicitly warned that use of chemical weapons by the Assad government would cross a "red line" for the U.S. Mr. Obama and his advisers haven’t spelled out the consequences should such a determination be made.

But having ended the war in Iraq and started a quick drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan, Mr. Obama doesn’t want to get sucked into another deadly and expensive conflict, current and former administration officials say. Administration policy makers are also mindful of the case made a decade earlier for war in Iraq, which the officials say stands as a cautionary tale about the dangers of intervening based on intelligence that isn’t clear-cut and may ultimately prove wrong.

"The president has clearly stated that the use of chemical weapons would be a ‘game changer.’ Thus, we must be absolutely confident of use before determining how to respond," the senior U.S. official said.

Israel’s disclosure could prove particularly hard for Washington to discount, European diplomats say. Israel is thought by Western officials and analysts to have the best intelligence network inside Syria. The U.S. has relied on it heavily for intelligence about Syria’s chemical weapons.

Israel’s Gen. Brun singled out a March 19 attack in Syria in which "victims suffered from shrunken pupils, foaming from the mouth, and other symptoms which indicate the use of deadly chemical weapons."

"The type of chemical weapons was likely sarin, as well as neutralizing and nonlethal chemical weapons," Gen. Brun said, referring to what he said was a photograph of an attack victim. The Israeli assessment was based on broader intelligence, according to an Israeli official, who declined to elaborate. . . .

Later Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that he had spoken by telephone withIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about alleged Syrian use of chemical weapons but that the Israeli leader had been unable to confirm it. "The information I have at this point does not confirm it to me in a way that I would be comfortable commenting on it as a fact," Mr. Kerry said on the sidelines of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization meeting in Brussels.  (photo: Reuters)

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