While there is widespread agreement that a chemical weapons attack occurred last week near Damascus, killing over 300 people, what remains unclear is why the attack was carried out.
According to one Israeli expert, the devastating attack may have largely been a error.
“It’s quite likely that there was a kind of operational mistake here,” the unnamed senior Israeli source told the New York Times. “I don’t think they wanted to kill so many people, especially so many children. Maybe they were trying to hit one place or to get one effect and they got a much greater effect than they thought.”
Israeli experts who were briefed on the attack reportedly said they believe the chemical used was a “cocktail” that included sarin gas. The mix of several components may have been far more deadly than Assad’s troops realized.
Other analysts suggested that the chemical weapons assault fits a pattern of attacks on civilians. “It appears that they were trying to break resistance in the Damascus area, which they have been trying to do unsuccessfully for some time,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy analyst Jeffery White told the New York Times.
The Assad regime continues to protest the assumption that it carried out the attack. While United States officials have blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for the massacre, Assad’s government says the rebels were the ones who used chemical agents.
“How is it possible that any country would use chemical weapons, or any weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its own forces are located?” Assad asked in an interview with the Russian paper Izvestia. “This is preposterous! These accusations are completely politicized and come on the back of the advances made by the Syrian Army against the terrorists.”
Syrian officials say the rebels launched the attack in hopes of convincing the United States and other Western nations to fight the Assad regime.
United Nations inspectors who are running tests in the area have warned that they will be unable to determine who used the weapons, and will report only on whether an attack occurred.
United States officials have accused the Assad regime of undermining inspections. The time that elapsed between the attack and the point at which inspectors were granted access to the affected area would have allowed Syrian officials to cover evidence of the government’s involvement, they said.
"At this juncture, any belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team would be considered too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime's persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days," a U.S. State Department official told CBS news, on condition of anonymity.