The New York Times today takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Syria chemical weapons scare that erupted in early December. Israel first contacted the Pentagon in late November, concerned by satellite images showing Syrian troops likely making sarin gas bombs. That call sparked a rare show of cooperation between countries that otherwise could not agree on what course of action to take in Syria. President Obama publicly warned Syria against using the weapons, while Russia, Iraq, and other countries sent private messages to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; the combination led Syria to stop prepping the bombs, and Leon Panetta later said the immediate crisis had passed.
"I think the Russians understood this is the one thing that could get us to intervene in the war," says one senior defense official. But the weapons produced during that time still exist, and American and European officials are concerned. "What Assad understood, and whether that understanding changes if he gets cornered in the next few months, that’s anyone’s guess," the official continues. Officials say the bombs could be deployed within as little as two hours, giving the US and its allies little time to respond; those countries are considering whether to intervene and help the Syrian opposition destroy the country's air force, which is needed to deliver the bombs, but plans are vague. See the Times for more. (Read more Bashar al-Assad stories.)