President Barrack Obama on Monday threatened Syria’s dictator with unspecified consequences if he uses his country’s large armory of poisons to suppress the varied rebel forces that are battling his army, including the imported Islamic jihadis that are threatening to murder his supporters.
“The use of chemical weapons and would be totally unacceptable,” Obama told an audience attending the Dec. 3 Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Symposium in D.C., amid news reports that Syria’s government is moving some chemical weapons from guarded depots.
If you “make the tragic mistake of using those weapons, there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable,” he declared.
However, Obama did not describe a possible response against Syria’s government, which is backed by Iran.
A major problem for Obama is that a rebel victory would allow jihadi groups to capture many tons of chemicals weapons for use against Israeli, U.S. and European civilians. Jihadi groups are already using guided missiles captured in Libya against Israel’s soldiers and civilians, according to media reports.
To head off that danger, Israeli forces might enter Syria to seize the chemical weapons, perhaps prompting attacks from Iran’s other allies in Lebanon and the Gaza strip.
So far, U.S. officials have said they’re providing modest non-military support to Syrian rebels, and have minimized U.S. intervention.
The modest role comes after Obama pulled U.S. forces from nearby Iraq, and sent aircraft — but not soldiers — to remove Libya’s dictator.
Since those decisions, Iraq’s government has come under more pressure from Iran, and Libya’s weak government was unable to stop jihadis from killing four Americans and destroying U.S. facilities in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
If Syria’s government does use chemical weapons, one option for the White House would be increasing support for democatic-minded rebel forces. However, those armed groups do not seem to be very powerful.
The Islamist governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are already providing support to rebels who ally with the Salafi or the Muslim Brotherhood political movements. Both movements would impose an Islamic theocracy on Syria if they win.
The Syrian government, led by Bashar Al Assad, seems to be losing its grip on Syria, despite a supply of weaponry and some soldiers sent by its ally, Iran, via Iraqi airspace. Iran is able to supply Syria by air because Obama withdrew U.S. forces from Iraq.
The rebels, which include ill-organized village-defense militias, groups of urbanites and an increasing flow of jihadi veterans from Libya and Afghanistan, have pushed Syria’s army out of much of the country and from large parts of several towns.
However, the war has gotten bloodier since it began in 2011.
Both sides — especially the jihadis — are killing unarmed people and prisoners.
The high stakes ensure that Syria’s minority ethnic groups — especially the Christians — are debating wether to flee towards safer zones.
The ruling Alawite community can flee to its home region on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, or it can escalate by counter-attacking the jihadi and rebel groups with chemical weapons, such as nerve gases.
Those weapons kill on contact with skin, and even very small doses can paralyze or sicken people for long periods of time. The areas where nerve gases are used can become inhabitable for years.
The nerve-gas weapons are so deadly that Adolf Hitler refused to use them in World War II, even though they were developed by German scientists in secret. As a German soldier in World War 1, Hitler was temporary incapacitated by simpler, and less deadly, chemical weapons.
Obama ended his statement about the chemical weapons by declaring, “We simply cannot allow the 21st century to be darkened by the works the weapons of the 20th century.”