The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Syria's President Assad and his inner circle of advisors are at odds over whether to use Syria's vast stockpile of chemical weapons in a last ditch effort to save the regime.
Sources in Iraq say Syrian President Bashar Assad's inner circle is engaged in "intensive debate" between those who advocate using chemical weapons as a last resort and those who warn of the dangers of such a step, Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah reported on Thursday.
The debate comes amid growing Western fears that a desperate Assad could turn to chemical weapons as rebels close in on Damascus.
Al-Seyassah said its reporters spoke to a "prominent figure in Iraq's Islamist Sadrist movement" in Baghdad. The movement, led by popular Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is supportive of Assad but has previously denied reports it has sent fighters to Syria to help put down the uprising.
Assad's security and intelligence chiefs believe the rebels' convergence on the capital provides a unique "opportunity to exterminate them," the source said.
The Iraqi Sadrist leader said the Syrian regime's political military and security factions have become more desperate as rebel forces converge on Damascus, and therefore the regime won't hesitate to use "any weapon" against the opposition, Al-Seyassah reported.
This faction, led by Gen. Ali Mamlouk, Assad's special security adviser and former head of the General Security Directorate (GID); his deputy Gen. Abdel-Fateh Qudsiya; current GID chief Maj.-Gen. Mohammed Dib Zaitoun; military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Rafiq Shahada; and Gen. Rustum Ghazali, the head of the Political Security Directorate, believe such a move could help quash the uprising once and for all.
According to Al-Seyassah, its Iraqi source said that Iran has discussed the use of chemical weapons with Moscow, and Tehran supports their use "widely and extensively."
Moscow believes the Syrian regime could resort to limited use of chemical weapons as a deterrence if it were forced to act to stop Damascus from falling into the hands of the armed opposition, especially in the suburbs of Douma, Moadamiyeh, Zamalka and Kafr Batna, where intelligence shows there are more armed groups including those affiliated with the Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), the source said.
With Iran and Russia on board to various degrees, it appears more and more likely that Assad will cross Obama's red line and deploy his chemical weapons arsenal against the rebels.
What then? If they are used indiscriminately, Moscow would have little choice but to stand aside and allow the west to end the conflict. But if they are used as Moscow suggests - sparingly and only to save the capital -- an new threshold will have been crossed with unknown consequences for the future.