The latest reports from Syria on Monday, indicating that President Bashar Assad's loyalists used nerve gas or another type of poisonous chemicals against rebels in Homs, have not yet been independently verified.
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But the Syrian opposition has a substantial interest in spreading such reports: If Assad breaks this final taboo, the international community might finally be convinced to intervene and depose him, and put an end to the horrific carnage plaguing the country.
Until recently, conventional wisdom in the West held that Assad is still exercising restraint - minimal as it may be – in choosing what means his military uses. Chemical weapons are seen as a particularly terrible choice, and rightly so.
With regard to Israel – the regime's number one enemy for many years – Western countries have held that Assad would be cautious about employing chemical weapons in any future conflict, as it is believed that Israel has nuclear weapons which it could use in retaliation.
Currently, however, as Assad seems to be debating whether to use chemical weapons or not, the target in mind is not Israel, but rather the rebels. And a decision to take this path now seems quite plausible.
The Syrian regime, which has been fighting for its life for nearly two years, has already used all other means. A regime that in the past two weeks fired Scud missiles on rebel-controlled areas, within its own country's borders, will not necessarily be averse to using chemical weapons.
The events of the last several weeks, such as the bombing of civilians who were standing in line to buy bread at a bakery, cumulatively suggest how desperate the regime has become. Assad has consistently proven that he has no real restraints while he fights for survival.
Although the chemical weapons are not aimed at Israel, a worrying trend is developing. It is only apt to raise once again the issue of Israel's continued neglect in funding gas masks for citizens – a neglect which has meant that only a little more than half the population has them in their home. Furthermore, the continued weakening of the Syrian regime may also loosen its security forces' oversight of the chemical weapons arsenal, considered to be the second-largest in the world.
Under these circumstances, the international community – Israel included – is paying close attention to two possible scenarios: One in which Sunni rebels take over the chemical weapons arsenal (and extreme, Al-Qaida-inspired organizations get their hands on it), and the other in which the weapons are deliberately transferred by the Syrian army to Assad's partner Hezbollah. In terms of terror organizations acquiring such a weapon, the temptation should not be taken lightly. Jihadist groups will not hesitate to use it in the future against Israeli targets, while Hezbollah could consider it as another insurance policy against an Israeli attack in south Lebanon.
The U.S., in coordination with other countries in the region, is preparing several possible operations to deal with Syria's chemical weapons in the event that the regime loses control over them. One option is a large-scale aerial attack, and yet another possibility is dispatching commando units to dismantle the arsenals. But at the moment, it seems that the fate of the chemical weapons arsenal is only the second most important question in the eyes of the West and of the Arab world. The first question remains – when will the Syrian regime fall?