Did Syrian government forces launch a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs last month without obtaining permission from President Bashar Assad? That’s the assessment of German intelligence sources cited by the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Bild reports that Syrian brigade and division commanders had for the last four-and-a-half months been requesting permission from the Presidential Palace to use chemical weapons against regime adversaries, but their requests were repeatedly rejected. According to Bild’s report published Sunday, the assessment was based on radio messages intercepted by the German naval reconnaissance ship the Oker sailing near the Syrian coast.
“This could mean Assad may not have personally approved the attack close to Damascus on August 21 in which more than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, intelligence officers suggested,” writes Reuters which adds that it could not reach Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND) for comment on the story.
On the other hand, the radio intercepts add credence to Obama administration claims that those aligned with President Assad, not rebels, were behind the attack, according to the Guardian’s summary of the German newspaper report.
In a closed door briefing in the German parliament, intelligence agency chief Gerhard Schindler said that though the agency did not have conclusive proof that Assad’s government was responsible, the evidence it possesses suggests government forces were behind the use of chemical weapons, according to lawmakers who spoke to Reuters.
That evidence includes a phone call between a Hezbollah official and the Iranian Embassy in Damascus - intercepted by German spies - in which the Hezbollah representative said Assad had ordered the attack. Both Hezbollah and Iran are close allies of President Assad.
If the report is accurate, would the Obama administration continue to hold Assad responsible even if he did not green light the use of chemical agents? Apparently so, according to a statement made by the State Department spokeswoman last month.
As TheBlaze previously reported, when a reporter on August 28 asked if Assad had ordered the attack, State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said “I don’t know the answer to that.” She did, however, say that Assad is responsible for his regime’s actions “regardless of where the command and control lies.”
“The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if command and control – he’s not the one that pushes the button or said, ‘Go,’ on this,” Harf added.
“He is ultimately held responsible for the actions of his regime,” Harf said.
It’s unknown how this new report will impact the position of members of Congress who are expected to vote on a resolution approving the use of military force in Syria. It could also pose a challenge to the administration in its efforts to convince European allies to support any military action against Assad’s forces.
In an interview to Charlie Rose of CBS News, President Assad said on Sunday that there is no evidence he used chemical weapons against his own people.