Overconfidence, smugness or perhaps an operational mistake led the Syrian army to kill more than a thousand civilians, many of them children, in a deadly gas attack in a Damascus suburb.
The attack marks a year since the Syrian army's first use of deadly gas in its fight against rebels. Until last week the usage was done in remote areas far from the world's view, against isolated targets and in low quantities. Those isolated attacks were enough to kill a few dozen rebels and provide the Syrian army with a tactical advantage, as well as net the regime a few points in the ongoing fight against the insurgency, yet not enough to force U.S. President Barack Obama to act on his pledge to respond against Syria if it uses chemical weapons.
But last week the red line was crossed, one of the many times Bashar Assad has crossed it during his nearly 30-month-long fight to eradicate his opposition. Crossing red lines however will not necessarily lead to his demise. The U.S. is not particularly excited by the prospect of getting involved militarily in Syria, and even if Obama decides to act, he -- experts believe -- will be satisfied with targeted missile strikes against Syrian military installations. The targets would be similar to those that Israel, according to foreign reports, attacked earlier this year.
Assad pointed his finger at Israel for the reported attacks, but stopped short of taking action against Israel. It is very possible he will react the same towards the U.S. After all, his real fight is with the rebels, as such it is safe to assume he will do everything in his power not to get dragged into all out war with the Americans.
In this, Obama and Assad have a mutual interest. Both are not interested in a wide-scale conflict with each other, which would end in the fall of the Syrian regime but could leave the U.S. mired in hostile territory à la Iraq and Afghanistan. If what the experts say is proven true, Obama will strike Assad just hard enough to satisfy world opinion, yet still leave him standing and not compelled to respond, thus allowing Damascus to continue its fight against the rebels. Until next time.