WHAT’S escalating this weekend with Israeli airstrikes inside Syria started with the announcement from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel that chemical weapons had been used by Bashar Assad, though the Administration didn’t have specifics.
The Israeli airstrikes led Syria to make provocative statements on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with CNN hours after a series of massive explosions illuminated the predawn sky in Damascus, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said the attack represented an alliance between Islamic terrorists and Israel.
“When they attack, this is a declaration of war. This is not something that is (new),” al Mekdad said. “We dealt with this on several occasions, and we retaliated the way we wanted, and the retaliation was always painful to Israel, and they will suffer again.” [CNN]
Why the New York Times is asserting President Obama is in a “tough spot” or “bind” because of his statements that chemical weapons are a “red line” and will “change my calculus” makes no sense at all. Does the Times actually believe chemical weapons shouldn’t be an international “red line”?
President Obama’s decision to lead before Assad chose to challenge the international community is what an American leader should be doing.
Chemical weapons by President Assad are a “red line” and should change the world’s “calculus” on what’s happening in Syria. The world community can’t just shrug when people like Assad decide to poison his own people.
Israeli airstrikes were launched because of this “red line” being crossed. They are in the center of an untenable position.
President Obama wasn’t put in a “tough spot” by his language. It was a war criminal in Syria, Bashar Assad, that has put the world on edge, starting with Israel, a country in the eye of the middle east storm right now.
More from CNN:
Shaul Mofaz, a lawmaker in Israel’s Knesset, told Israeli Army Radio that Israel isn’t meddling with Syria’s civil war. But Israel must protect itself from Lebanese militants, he said.
“For Israel, it is very important that the front group for Iran, which is in Lebanon, needs to be stopped,” Mofaz said.
“Everything that goes into the hands of Hezbollah is not directly related to the rebels. Israel never interfered in the past or today in their actions. Nevertheless, I need to say that Hezbollah is deeply involved up to its neck in what is happening in Syria. Hezbollah helps the Iranians navigate against the rebels.”
Hezbollah did not immediately comment after Sunday’s claims.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman condemned the attack Sunday, claiming that Israel had used Lebanese airspace to strike Syria.
The president said he was “not surprised at Israel’s onslaught against Syria,” Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
Israeli airstrikes have raised the stakes for the international community, beginning with President Obama, but it all began because of Assad crossing a “red line” by using chemical weapons.
UPDATE: I rarely do this, but below is the part of the press gaggle today on Air Force One on the topic of Syria and Israel.
BY PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Columbus, Ohio
Q — has the President had with any world leaders over the events of the past few days in Syria?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has been traveling through Mexico and Central America over the last three or four days. I don’t have any specific calls to read out to you, but the President, as he took the trip, was joined by a number of senior members of his national security team — National Security Advisor Donilon was with him; Deputy National Security Advisor Rhodes traveled with him. So the President was kept up to date on these reports even as he was traveling. But in terms of specific conversations that he had with world leaders, I don’t have anything to read out to you at this point.
Q Josh, is the President concerned that the civil war in Syria is being used as a cover for groups like Hezbollah to transfer weapons?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have seen violence in Syria that has gotten the attention of the international community. The terrible use of weapons by the Assad regime against its own people is deplorable. It is something that the international community is united to trying to end the bloodshed there. It’s the view of the United States and many people around the world that a democratic transition in Syria cannot take place with Assad there, so Assad must leave power.
We’ve also talked about the threat, the destabilizing threat that this conflict poses to the region. And it certainly is one of the many reasons it’s gotten so much attention that it has, and it’s one of the reasons that this is a top national security priority of this administration.
But in terms of the motives of people, I can’t shed any light on that. The President has talked about his concern that there might be some extremist elements who would take advantage of the chaos and the instability to lay the groundwork for other acts of violence. So the President has acknowledged that threat, and it’s certainly one of the many reasons that the United States is working with our international partners to try to find a way to bring this bloodshed to an end and ensure a transition to a government in Syria that actually reflects the will of the Syrian people.
Q What’s the expectation within the administration on how much information you guys have, should Israel take action, beforehand? Is there an expectation that you guys are being looped in before they would have an attack?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that the United States, and this administration, in particular, is in very close contact and is closely coordinating with the Israeli government on a range of issues, including important national security priorities. So there are conversations and communications that are happening all the time between senior members of this administration and their counterparts in Israel.
But in terms of the details of those conversations, I’m obviously not in a position to read those out. But the close coordination between the Obama administration and the United States of America is ongoing with the Israeli government.
Q You said that the United States believes Israel has a right to defend itself. The Syrian government is calling these strikes a flagrant violation of Israel’s international obligations and all that. So I just want to be clear. Do you think that Israel does have the right to violate another country’s sovereignty, like Syria, to defend itself against weapons that might be –
MR. EARNEST: I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. You’re asking about reports from overnight that I’m just not in a position to comment on. I can say what the President said last night as a general matter that the Israelis are justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapon systems including some long-range missiles.
But in terms of how that relates to specific reports overnight about military action, I’m not in a position to comment on that. If you do have questions about reports of Israeli action, I’d refer you to the Israelis to talk about that.
Q Following up on his question, you talked about the constant contacts that the administration has with Israel. How comfortable is the administration with the contact just in the past three or four days, the past week?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to evaluate those communications just because I don’t want to talk about them publicly. But I will just assure you as a principle that the way this administration has operated has been to closely lash up our posture and our intelligence and other security arrangements closely with the Israelis.
Q So that’s in general, but not in specific to the past week?
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct. I’m just not going to get into the details of those conversations, other than to assure you that our posture has been that we’re going to closely coordinate with the Israelis on a range of issues. And that is continuing.