John McCain
John McCainReuters

As Syrian President Bashar Assad continues his brutal crackdown against protesters, U.S. Senator John McCain on Monday became the first senator to call for airstrikes against Syria.

McCain said President Barack Obama has taken too soft a stand against Assad and his brutal crackdown on his own people.

The Arizona Republican said the Syrian government’s slaughter of unarmed civilians has likely resulted in war crimes and that its neighbors in the region will intervene militarily, with or without the U.S.

The Associated Press reported that in a speech on the Senate floor, McCain said the United States has a moral and strategic obligation to force out Assad and his loyalists.

“The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower,” McCain was quoted as having said. “The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces.”

“The president must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he started,” he added. "The Obama administration should make it clear that “the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our air power to make it so.”

McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, recently urged international cooperation to help supply anti-Assad rebels with weapons and other aid.

"The United States doesn't have to directly ship weapons to the opposition, but there are a whole lot of things that can be done" through groups such as the Arab League, McCain told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later warned against the United States arming rebels in Syria, saying such a move could inadvertently lead to support for the Al Qaeda and Hamas terror groups.

McCain’s call to launch airstrikes in Syria was backed on Monday by Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

In a short interview with TIME Magazine, Santorum said that Obama, having called for Assad to step down, ought to take stronger action to make good on those words.

“That’s not what presidents do; they don’t pick sides and cheerlead,” Santorum said. “When the United States says, ‘This guy should go,’ then the expectation is that the United States will stand behind limited and reasonable efforts to do so.”

Asked about McCain’s comments, Santorum said he did not reject the notion of bombing Assad’s army. “I would say that would certainly be one of the things I would consider,” he said.

On Sunday, Israel formally offered to assist Syrian civilians hit by the crackdown. Aid would be provided via the Red Cross.

“The state of the Jewish people cannot sit idly by while in a neighboring state atrocities are taking place and people are losing everything,” said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

“Even if Israel cannot intervene in what is being done in a state with which we have no diplomatic ties, we have a moral obligation to at least give humanitarian aid, and to stir the world to act to end the slaughter,” Lieberman declared.