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President Barack Obama's August 31 announcement that he would seek congressional authorization to strike Syria has complicated an aggressive Israeli campaign to render a US attack inevitable. While the Israelis are far from the only force in bringing the US to the brink of war -- obviously Assad's own actions are the driving factor -- their dubious intelligence assessments have proven pivotal.
On April 25, the head of the Israeli army's Military Intelligence research and analysis division, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, delivered a high profile lecture at the military-linked Institute for National Security Studies. "To the best of our professional understanding, the [Syrian] regime has used lethal chemical weapons," Brun declared, referring to March 19 attacks near Damascus and Aleppo.
"The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction," Brun said, "is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate."
The stunning statement by the Israeli army's top intelligence analyst was significantly stronger than suspicions expressed days before by the UK and France about the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. It was clearly aimed at Obama, who had declared in the summer of 2012 that chemical weapons attacks on civilian targets would transgress a "red line" and trigger US military action. But the White House pushed back against the Israeli ploy, dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supply more conclusive evidence.
"I don't know yet what the facts are," Kerry said after a phone call with Netanyahu, "I don't think anybody knows what they are."
Specious intelligence brightens the red line
Flash forward to the August 21 Ghouta massacre, where over 1000 Syrian civilians died without any sign of external wounds in a series of attacks. As in April, Israel has come forward with intelligence supposedly proving that the victims of the attacks died from nerve gas deployed by units from Assad's Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
On August 24, Israel's Channel 2 broadcast a report claiming that the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of Assad's SAA fired the nerve gas shells on Ghouta. Channel 2 added that Israel was relaying its concerns to Washington, suggesting an urgent demand for US action. The report was echoed by an August 30 article in Germany's Focus magazine claiming that Israeli army's Unit 8200 -- a cyber-warfare division that functions much like the American NSA -- had intercepted communications of top Syrian officials ordering the chemical attack.
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