Syria's Chemical Weapons: Is the U.S. Too Late?

Syria's Assad wants to 'teach lessons and break heads,' expert says.

President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 4, 2012;  A boy carries a girl through ravaged Syrian streets.
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[PHOTOS: Refugee Crisis Escalating in Syria]

This would threaten peace in the entire region. Israeli officials tell U.S. News Israel would not let this happen.

Even a small amount of military-grade chemical weapons could have devastating consequences. A RAND Corporation analysis from July references the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attacks that killed 13 people.

"This was not a WMD on the scale of a nuclear weapon, but large by the standards of terrorist actions and magnified by its ability to terrify, as shown by the panicked thousands who sought treatment without having been exposed to the agent," according to the report. "Terrorists with military-grade materials could do much more."

The U.S. government has not specified what consequences would follow from Assad's use of chemical weapons. NATO agreed on Wednesday to supply Turkey with two Patriot missile batteries for one year along its border with Syria, including 400 support troops.

Panetta said in October there were roughly 150 special operations commandos in Jordan working with local forces to monitor regime weapons sites in Syria.

[WH: Syrian Chemical Weapon Use Would Cross 'Red Line']

"Thus far, the U.S. has been standing back," says Jouejati. 'By issuing statements such as the use of chemical weapons as a 'red line' suggests even indirectly and unwittingly that anything less than chemical weapons is alright. It is a result of this that Assad has been unrestrained in his violence."

[Learn more about the Syrian people's view of U.S. assistance here.]

"Syrian People are now beginning to feel there is a different American tone somewhat than in the recent past," he adds. "They are hoping, if there is going to be an intervention, this happens before [the Assad forces] use chemical weapons."

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  • Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at pshinkman@usnews.com.