Shortly after the Obama administration said Thursday night that it would provide weapons to the Syrian rebels comes news that the White House is considering a no-fly zone in Syria in what would mark the first direct intervention in the civil war, reports Reuters. The fast-moving developments came after U.S. intelligence agencies determined with “high certainty” that the Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin. The intelligence agencies estimate that some 100 to 150 people have been killed by chemical weapons, reports the Washington Post.
The expanded military support from Washington is likely to include light arms and ammunition at first. Although officials didn’t rule out that antitank weapons could be included, for now it seems antiaircraft weapons that rebels have said they need would not be part of the package, according to the New York Times. And, officially, Obama has “not made any decision” on a no-fly zone, Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said. Even though Rhodes “all but ruled out” a no-fly zone, according to the Times account, Reuters hears from two “senior Western diplomats” that it is being considered.
To impose a no-fly zone, the United States would have to bomb Syria’s Russian-build air defense, a step that would almost certainly raise the ire of Moscow. In fact, on Friday, the Kremlin insisted that the evidence presented by Washington that claimed Syrian forces had used chemical weapons was unconvincing. A Russian official insisted that while he didn’t want to “draw any parallels” he did note Washington had been wrong when it said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, reports the Wall Street Journal. Others were more direct. “The data on Assad’s use of chemical weapons is fabricated just like the lies about weapons of [Saddam] Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction,” Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s international relations committee, wrote on Twitter. “Obama is going down the path of G. Bush.”