United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated a strong warning Monday to the Syrian government not to use its chemical weapons, but she would not give any hints as to what action the U.S. might take if that “red line” was crossed.
“I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action,” she told reporters. Clinton made the comments in response to a question about whether there was any new evidence that the regime intended to use its stash of chemical weapons internally or cross-border. She did not directly address those reports.
Clinton drew a distinction between the Assad regime’s “reprehensible” behavior and violence in the conflict thus far, and the potential use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or other nations.
“There is a line between the horrors that they’ve inflicted on their own people and what would be an internationally condemned step of utilizing their weapons,” she said.
Clinton discussed the nearly two-year crisis in Syria during a brief visit to the Czech capital of Prague, and specifically focused on the threat of the isolated nation’s chemical weapons. Despite their denial of even possessing chemical or biological weapons, the Bashar Al-Assad regime is believed to have significant stockpiles. The possibility that Assad might employ the weapons against the rebels as a last resort, or even lose control of them if he is ousted from power, has been a cause of serious concern for the U.S. and Israel in particular.
An unnamed U.S. defense official told the Associated Press Monday that intelligence officials from the United States and its allies have become aware of Syria moving components for chemical weapons within the past week.
Meanwhile, a senior State Department official told CBS News the U.S. will agree to supply Turkey with Patriot surface-to-air missile systems to shoot down any incoming fire from Syria, if NATO partners signal their support to provide the batteries during a meeting this week in Brussels.
The missiles will likely be deployed within “a matter of weeks, at least,” following the conclusion of a site survey that is currently underway inside Turkish territory, according to the U.S. official.
The new level of anxiety was prompted by reports that Assad’s forces have been moving chemical weapons, according to David Sanger and Eric Schmitt in the New York Times. According to their report, one U.S. official told them that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” though the official “declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.”
The Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government with a plan to take out many of Syria’s chemical weapons sites, Jeffrey Goldberg reported exclusively in The Atlantic on Monday. According to the two officials Goldberg spoke to, Israel has been seeking Jordan’s “permission” to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.
Although Israel would not need the permission of Jordan to strike the Syrian facilities, just like it had done in 2007, when Israel, according to foreign reports, destroyed the alleged nuclear plant in Syria, an Israeli official told Goldberg that the Israelis are concerned about the possible repercussions of such an attack against Syria on Jordan. “A number of sites are not far from the border,” he said, further explaining: “The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack.”
He went on to provide context for the Israeli request: “You know the Israelis -- sometimes they want to bomb right away. But they were told that from the Jordanian perspective, the time was not right.” The Israeli requests were made in the last two months, communicated by Mossad intermediaries dispatched by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, according to these sources.
Israeli drones are patrolling the skies over the Jordan-Syria border, and both American and Israeli drones are keeping watch over suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites, according to Goldberg, who was briefed on the matter by intelligence sources.