Syria Chemical Weapons: What's the "Strange Substance" Assad is Dropping Out Of Planes?


Two people were killed and 20 injured after Syrian government aircraft dropped bags of "strange substances" in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib on Tuesday, Al-Jazeera reported. According to the Qatar-based news network, the suspicious material was apparently nerve gas. This follows claims by rebel groups that 42 people suffocated to death last week in a chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces. Video footage of the latest incident shows casualties in makeshift hospitals coughing and gasping for air. 

Despite this latest report, foreign intervention in Syria seems unlikely. Not only has the U.S .government been reluctant to say definitively that Syria has used chemical weapons, but most Americans also believe that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to intervene. 

The United States and its allies are continuing to assess the validity of claims that Syria has used chemical weapons, as President Obama underscored his concerns in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The United Nations has also appealed to Syria to allow weapons experts into the country to investigate the allegations. 

Confirmation that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, if it comes, is likely to increase pressure on the U.S. to intervene, especially given its previous declaration that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line." According to a new CBS News/New York Times poll, however, the majority of Americans do not think that the U.S. has a responsibility to get involved in Syria and fewer Americans are paying attention to the conflict than they were in March. 

U.S. concern regarding the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is another example of selective condemnation, given its own use of depleted uranium munitions in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion, and its lack of condemnation of Israel's use of white phosphorus during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza.