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For two years, the international community has largely avoided involvement in Syria’s increasingly bloody civil war.
But last week’s revelation that French, Israeli, UK and US intelligence, with varying confidence, suspect Syria used chemical weapons against its people changes the debate.
Although President Obama has resisted getting embroiled in Syria, he warned Damascus last year that if it uses chemical weapons to cling to power, it would cross a “red line” exposing it to “consequences.”
Since the international community shared that stance, if Damascus is guilty, then it must be punished if similar démarches aimed at other rogue states are to be taken seriously.
But given intel agencies now linking the Assad regime to chemical weapons use were wrong about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, prudence demands greater certitude.
While sarin was likely used by regime forces to counter rebels , some suggest rebels could, even in tiny amounts, have used such agents to secure wider backing.
More conclusive proof of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime would help gain Russian and Chinese support, which have opposed international involvement in Syria.
There are an array of military, diplomatic and clandestine tools to shape the conflict’s outcome, including a no-fly zone to counter Syrian aircraft and rockets, denying a key regime advantage. The question is: will outside powers intervene to end the conflict or not?
All governments must carefully consider the rationale for committing forces and the consequences and benefits of doing so. But nations with or seeking weapons of mass destruction are watching whether the Syria’s red line is empty rhetoric.