A video has surfaced from the Syrian opposition which appears to show a regime helicopter (an Mi-24 Hind) dropping white-phosphorous bombs, which are banned by international law as offensive weapons:
White phosphorous is a brittle substance that burns extremely brightly. Phosphorous bombs are not completely banned by international law, because their use for illumination and, debatably, for intimidation purposes, is allowed; but the weapon can also cause severe chemical burns, harm victims with its vapor, and poison water or food supplies. (That said, Syria is not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention regulating this, though almost every other nation in the world is.)
This potential use of chemical weapons comes after sporadic reports of the regime’s use of cluster bombs, also banned by some international treaties (though again, to which Syria is not party). Now, on Wednesday, U.S. officials told NBC News that the regime has loaded the chemicals necessary to deploy sarin gas, a highly lethal chemical weapon, into bombs for use.
But that seems unlikely, something Assad has little interest in doing, and doesn’t seem to be what the president was talking about when he set his first “red line” — “moving around or being utilized” implies the first event as a hint that the second was about to occur (though we wouldn’t always be able to observe it before the second did), i.e., the Syrian government preparing its weapons, not transferring them to other actors — and now the Syrian government has done that, and the U.S. is not going to respond.
As to what the new red line implies, the State Department has not been very clear, either, with explaining what exactly the U.S. would do if Assad crosses the new red line. When asked yesterday if a redline would involve “some kind of a military response,” Deputy State spokesman Mark Toner responded that, “We’re not going to get into what the consequences would be, other than to say that there’s a red line. . . A red line is a red line.”