High Stakes: Israel Alert as US Mulls Syria Strike

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- At a news conference Tuesday, President Obama said he still hasn't determined whether Syria crossed a "red line" with a chemical weapons attack in March.

The president suggested he would consider military action against Syria if the United States can confirm President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his people.

But a number of U.S. allies -- and enemies -- are intently following Washington's response to the threat. No one has more at stake than Israel.

Syrian opposition groups released a video showing dozens of people they say were killed or sickened in a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government. Back in March, Obama issued a warning:

"To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line, and that is going to be a game-changer," the president said.

Since then, British, French and Israeli intelligence all concluded that the Assad government did conduct a chemical attack, and last week Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed. But the White House is still reluctant to call it a game changer for the United States in Syria.

"Now we are working to establish credible and corroborated facts to build on this intelligence assessment in order to establish a definitive judgment as to whether the president's red line has been crossed and to inform our decision-making about next steps," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Israeli Middle East analyst Jonathan Spyer says both U.S. friends and foes in the region are watching.

"It's now very apparent that the regime has used chemical weapons on a number of occasions, which means that if the United States now fails to act on its clear red line, then of course, conclusions will be drawn in that regard by all other players in the region, including some players very hostile to the United States -- including Iran," Spyer, a senior research fellow at the GLORIA Center, told CBN News.

Some say that the situation in Syria is similar to the one in Iraq before the U.S. invasion there. Dr. Walid Phares, author of The Coming Revolution, Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, analyzes that comparison on Newswatch, May 2.

One option in the U.S. arsenal: air or sea strikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities and production plants, which are scattered throughout the country. But that's a subject the administration won't address in the media.

"My role is to present to the president -- and my responsibility -- options for any contingency," Hagel said. "I won't speculate on those options nor publicly discuss those options."

Obama's red line on Syria is a big enough problem for the Middle East. But in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to deal with an even more dangerous red line: the one leading to a nuclear Iran.

"A red line should be drawn right here, before -- before Iran can reach the stage of nuclear enrichment necessary to make a bomb," Netanyahu said.

Just months after Netanyahu's "red line" speech to the United Nations last fall, former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin said Iran has now crossed that red line or is at least right at the threshold.

The U.S. red line involves Iran actually building a weapon, while the Israeli red line tries to prevent Iran from getting nuclear capability -- and before it reaches the breakout stage of producing a weapon.

"The red line has been crossed," Spyer said definitively. "A lot now depends on the Iranian decision in this regard and certainly Israel will be watching very carefully."

"And if the Iranians make that decision," he continued, "there will be a little window of opportunity in which Israel will then have to make the absolute decision either to attack or accept that [a] nuclear Iran is going to come into being or of course to rely on the American willingness to attack further down the line when the American red line looks like it is about to be reached."

So while Western governments debate what they might do, Israel is strengthening its defenses on the Golan Heights -- on a border with Syria that has been mostly quiet for 40 years -- because the red lines being talked about now in Washington appear to lead straight to Israel's borders.

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Chris Mitchell and John Waage

Chris Mitchell and John Waage

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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