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Israeli Air Strikes Prompt Debate on Possible US Action in Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters on a pick-up truck, head towards the frontline where clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are taking place, in Damascus May 5, 2013. Free Syrian Army fighters on a pick-up truck, head towards the frontline where clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are taking place, in Damascus May 5, 2013.
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Free Syrian Army fighters on a pick-up truck, head towards the frontline where clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are taking place, in Damascus May 5, 2013.
Free Syrian Army fighters on a pick-up truck, head towards the frontline where clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are taking place, in Damascus May 5, 2013.
Michael Bowman
Some U.S. lawmakers say Israeli airstrikes in Syria demonstrate that the United States could take action to protect Syrian civilians from horrific carnage and hasten the fall of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Obama administration has provided non-lethal aid to Syrian rebels and humanitarian assistance for those displaced by the country’s civil war.  But the administration has resisted calls for establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, noting American warplanes would be targeted by Syrian air defense systems.

Republican Congressman Tom Cotton says Israeli airstrikes Friday and Sunday demonstrate such concerns are unfounded.

“The Israeli strikes over the last 48 hours have indicated that those Russian air defense systems [in Syria] are not as robust as they are sometimes reported to be.  We can stop Bashar al-Assad from killing his own people, and we can stop some of the worst violence in Syria," he said.

Cotton spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press.  Also appearing on the program was Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who agreed that Israel’s actions have exposed weaknesses in Syrian air defenses.  But he cautioned that other actions the United States could take - like arming Syrian rebels - are not without risks.

“Our problem in who to supply is that some of these [rebel] groups are strong Islamists, al-Qaida and others.  And we have seen in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere, the Islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there [come to power]," he said.

Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration is re-thinking a full range of options, including possibly arming Syrian rebels.  He stressed that no decisions had been made.

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