WASHINGTON - Warships armed with cruise missiles plow the waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. And U.S. officials are all but telling United Nations inspectors in Syria to get out of the way.
For almost two years, President Barack Obama has avoided direct military involvement in Syria's bloody civil war as the death toll skyrocketed.
Now, after a suspected chemical attack last week obliterated the "red line" Obama set, a flurry of comments and activity seem to be laying the groundwork for a military strike.
A senior Defense Department official told CNN that any strike could be completed "within several days."
Cabinet-level officials held a National Security Council meeting at the White House Tuesday night, and British security officials in London meet Wednesday to hash out options.
Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria, U.N. inspectors combed through areas on the outskirts of Damascus Wednesday in search of evidence that chemical weapons were used in last week's attack that rebels say killed more than 1,300 people.
"It does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people," U.N. and Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said Wednesday.
He said the death toll could be in the hundreds, or possibly more than a thousand.
"This is of course unacceptable. This is outrageous. This confirms how dangerous the situation in Syria is and how important for the Syrians and the international community to really develop the political will to address this issue seriously and look for solutions for it."
Israeli military intelligence provided intercepts among Syrian military commanders that discussed the movement of chemical weapons to the area of the attack before it happened, a diplomatic source told CNN Wednesday.
One of the areas inspectors have looked at is Zamalka, believed to have suffered the most casualties following the August 21 incident.
But U.S. officials aren't placing much stock in the U.N. mission.
"We clearly value the U.N.'s work -- we've said that from the beginning -- when it comes to investigating chemical weapons in Syria. But we've reached a point now where we believe too much time has passed for the investigation to be credible and that it's clear the security situation isn't safe for the team in Syria," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Tuesday.
Instead, the U.S. and key allies all agree something ought to be done -- and increasingly that is leaning toward a military solution.
U.S. forces are ready, if an order to strike comes down, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Australia said it won't send troops.
Efforts for a U.N. resolution
Britain has drafted a United Nations Security Council resolution "condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad and authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians," David Cameron tweeted Wednesday. The resolution will be put forward at the U.N. in New York later on Wednesday, he said.
But going through the United Nations probably won't be a viable option for the United States and its allies.
Russia -- which is a close ally of Syria and has a permanent seat on the council -- would likely block a resolution. China, which also has a permanent seat, would probably also object to any military measures against Syria.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday urged all members of the Security Council, especially Russia, to back it.
Outside of the United Nations, a military coalition is taking shape among Western powers.
Along with Britain, France has also signaled it would join Western military intervention against forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that France is "ready to punish those who made the decision to gas these innocent people."
The French parliament will hold a session next week to debate the situation in Syria.
NATO ambassadors are to take up the topic of Syria at their regular Wednesday meeting.
Obama continues to review options, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday, adding that "nothing has been decided."
Those options include peaceful diplomacy, which critics have called a "do nothing" approach.
The next step is the release of an intelligence report about the alleged chemical weapons attack that the United States conducted independently of the U.N. It is to come out later this week, said a Washington official who was not authorized to speak to the media.
The White House has ruled out sending ground troops to Syria or implementing a no-fly zone to blunt al-Assad's aerial superiority over rebels.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island believes that the most realistic option would be cruise missiles launched from U.S. Navy ships at sea, noting that "we can have precision weapons that could be fired and keep our aircraft out of Syrian airspace and away from their anti-aircraft systems."
"The most effective targets would have command-and-control, because you could send a signal to the Syrian