Israeli officials confirmed today that the Syrian Assad regime has used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels:
Senior Israeli military officials on Tuesday stated that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have used chemical weapons against the country’s civilians, saying their evidence — including photographs of victims foaming at the mouth — made them “nearly 100 percent” certain.
This puts Obama to the test, having declared in the past that-
"I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command - the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable"
So Israel, again, is causing trouble for Obama. And no, I don’t think this was an intentional attempt to embarrass the President. However, the American resolve to show the world that there are “consequences” will be tested in the coming weeks. That is, unless "consequences" mean putting Assad on trial, some day in the future, when the war is over and the regime is long gone. There is definitely reason to suspect that that is what Obama means by “you will be held accountable”, but the US can make Assad pay much sooner if Obama decides to do so.
It is important to note that even though Obama has suggested in the past that he isn’t a fan of red lines – more specifically, he doesn’t like it when Israel draws them in regards to Iran - Obama drew a clear “red line” on the Syria matter:
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation… We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.”
Putting together a plan is good, but using it is another matter. As Leon Wieseltier wrote last week:
I imagine that Obama is not keen to have it verified that his red line was crossed. This would require him to repudiate his policy of passivity.
Well, it was now more or less verified. By Israel.
After just ending a long round of worrying about the appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, we can now turn our attention to worrying about Secretary of State John Kerry. Unlike Hagel's, Kerry's confirmation was smooth and uninterrupted. Pro-Israel activists and some Israeli officials did quietly grumble that while Hagel is truly an annoyance, Kerry also wouldn't be their first or second choice; but the focus was on Hagel, and Kerry didn't get as much attention.
Remember that post ('Worry about Hagel-out, worry about Kerry-in')? Yesterday, as the Hagel visit ended on a positive tone, John Kerry once again put his foot in his mouth and demonstrated his ability to make Israelis worry:
US Secretary of State John Kerry compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade, at a press conference in Istanbul on Sunday.
In case you are wondering, Israel isn’t going to make a big fuss about this. Clearly, Kerry didn’t mean much – he was just talking without realizing how dumb and unfounded this comparison is. And besides, we are in the midst of an era of good feelings following the reset of the Obama-Israel relations, and no one wants to ruin the good atmosphere over the Kerry comments.
You think Obama is facing a test with Syria? Think about the test Netanyahu has to face.
Speaking at a security conference in Tel Aviv, Yadlin said that “for all intents and purposes, Iran has crossed Israel’s red line… in the summer, Iran will be a month or two away from deciding about a bomb.”
Assuming that Yadlin isn't just talking Kerry-style, the meaning of what he says is clear, and isn’t very different from the meaning of today’s news on Syria:
Israel will soon have to act against Iran, come up with a very good excuse as to why it didn’t act, or be exposed as a paper tiger (that is, an animal that makes noise but doesn’t have teeth to back that noise); Obama will soon have to act against Assad, come up with a very good excuse as to why he didn’t act, or be exposed as a paper tiger as well.