The Red Line

The former Head of the IDF Directorate of Military Intelligence portrays the internal reservations of the US president on whether or not to attack in SyriaThe Red Line – Obama's Confession

The Red Line

I declared a 'red line'; I publicly warned Bashar al-Assad not to use his military's chemical weapons. I threatened him that if he would not heed the warning, we will stop him by force.

The 'red line' that was announced was detached from the insane war waged in Syria for more than two years. We have no stance on the outcome of the campaign; We don't know what's more preferable for Syria, for the region and for us - a victory that will allow the survivability of the existing regime or Assad's defeat at the hands of the uprising rebels? If Assad falls, who and what will come in his place? Might there be a possibility that a stable government will be established in Damascus, that a unified state will be established there, or will we perhaps see chaos prevail there?

We made a decision not to intervene in the military campaign going on in the country. We are not willing to come to a conflict on this matter with Russia, China and remain without the backing of the UN Security Council.

There has been evidence that chemical weapons were used by the regime in Damascus for the past half year. We tried ignoring that, and then an Israeli intelligence officer came and publicly reported that Israel has conclusive evidence that the regime used the chemical weapons. We had no choice. We were forced to admit it, yet we did nothing in the meanwhile.

What must be done today? The new reports, the conclusive testimonies and the embarrassing photos of more than 1,400 people killed in the suburbs of Damascus represent the blunt crossing of the 'red line' that I set.

In the meanwhile, I have several days until the investigative report by the IAEA's inspectors is released. Until the report is brought for debate at the Security Council and until the Russian and Chinese veto that will sabotage the proposal to operate forcefully against the regime.

Our allies in Europe - the UK, Italy, Germany and others - are wavering, and will not join us in a military operation. If we decide to act, we will apparently have to do it alone.

And if we do act - what will be the purpose of our operation?

I am unwilling to deploy US soldiers in Syria. Without the army and without taking over the field, we cannot destroy the stockpiles of chemical weapons possessed by Syria.

We apparently can harm President Assad and take him out where he is hiding, in his palace in Damascus. This could be an intervention that will determine the fate of the campaign that is taking place. Is this really what we want? Is this really the optimal solution to the crisis?

We could suffice with local, exceptional act of punishment - one that wouldn't influence and tilt the scale of the war that's taking place. Then what? It would serve as a demonstration of our inability to change and dictate terms.

In addition, can we ignore the Russian warnings? A Syrian military response, a response by Hezbollah or an Iranian response against Israel, against Jordan? And then, could we prevent Israel from responding and perhaps even eliminating the regime in Damascus?

We brought all this upon ourselves because we set a 'red line' which we did not expect that we would face the need to fulfill our threat - we didn't foresee the circumstances where we would be required to do so.

We did not learn the lesson for the future - do not threaten unless you know with certainty that you will be ready to act if required. There is nothing more dangerous than setting a 'red line' that obligates you to respond and act in the least convenient and least desirable circumstances.

A comment: this column was written prior to hearing US Secretary of State John Kerry express the same dilemma himself yesterday.

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