Neither Israeli nor U.S. officials confirmed an attack Sunday morning that reportedly hit a weapons shipment in Syria — including sophisticated missiles and air defense equipment — about to be transferred to Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
But President Obama, in an interview broadcast just hours later Sunday, said Israel is justified in preventing the provision of weapons to Hezbollah.
“We coordinate very closely with the Israelis, recognizing that . . . they are very close to Syria, they’re very close to Lebanon,” Obama said in the interview, recorded Saturday with the Spanish-language Telemundo, after an earlier Israeli attack reported late Friday.
Throughout the Syrian crisis, the administration has repeatedly voiced the belief that Syria is already awash in weapons and that sending more will not tip the balance in favor of the rebels.
Now, in part because of growing confidence in the rebel Free Syrian Army, “the national security team and the diplomatic team around the president” favor increased involvement, and their views are gaining momentum despite the caution expressed by Obama’s political advisers, according to a senior Western official whose government has closely coordinated its Syria policy with Washington and who spoke before the reported Israeli strikes. The official discussed sensitive diplomatic assessments on the condition of anonymity.
Even U.S. lawmakers who have expressed reservations about stepped-up U.S. involvement appeared to now see it as inevitable.
“If we are going to arm the rebels, we have to make sure those arms are not going to end up in the possession of al-Qaeda supporters,” Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed similar concern but said he believes that Obama is moving toward action. “The idea of getting weapons in — if we know the right people to get them — my guess is we will give them to them,” Leahy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, urged that action be taken only with other partners. “We can’t be the sheriff to the whole world,” he said. “We have our own issues right now — Iraq, Afghanistan, we have sequestration, those type of issues. So when we make the move to get in, we have to do it with a coalition.”
The apparent Israeli strikes — following reports in recent weeks that Assad’s forces probably deployed chemical weapons in unknown quantities — appeared to bolster the case of those who have long favored direct U.S. support for the rebels.