Little declined to comment on whether Israeli officials shared their findings with their U.S. counterparts during Hagel’s three-day visit. But he said that the U.S. government “remains actively engaged with other countries to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons” and that it was coordinating “closely with our partners, including the French, British and Israelis.”
A senior U.S. defense official said corroborating claims “in an environment like Syria’s is very difficult.” The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, indicated that the administration was reacting more skeptically than Israel, Britain or France.
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Israel is chiefly concerned that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group could obtain chemical weapons from Syria and use them against Israel. In recent weeks, Israel has been pushing to consider military intervention to destroy Syria’s extensive chemical stockpile. Israeli or U.S. airstrikes would be the most likely means of attacking the arsenal, a move that Israel acknowledges would be difficult and that carries many downsides.
With the Israeli concern in mind, Obama has warned that the transfer of chemical weapons to “non-state actors,” such as Hezbollah, would be unacceptable. He has never said exactly what the United States would do in response to a proven use or transfer of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.
The administration has approved wider battlefield support for Syrian rebels but has stopped short of sending weapons, fearing that they will go astray or lead to an arms race with Russia and Iran, which supply the Assad regime.
In letters last week to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, France and Britain said there is credible evidence that Syria has used chemical weapons on more than one occasion since December. According to senior diplomats and officials briefed on the accounts, the evidence included soil samples and witness interviews that point toward nerve agents used in and around the cities of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
In Brussels on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov accused “certain Western members” of the U.N. Security Council of politicizing the investigation of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria and compared it to the hunt for nuclear weapons in Iraq a decade ago.
Lavrov spoke after discussions on Syria with foreign ministers from NATO’s 28 member nations and a separate closed-door session with Kerry. He said any accusations of chemical weapons use should be investigated by experts.
Booth reported from Tel Aviv. Craig Whitlock in Amman, Jordan, Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem and Karen DeYoung in Brussels contributed to this report.