Ariel Sharon Bombs Syria, Ratcheting Up the Cycle of Violence

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After Israel's Oct. 5 bombing of what turned out to be an abandoned training camp near Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad accused Israel of diverting attention from the crisis in the occupied territories and trying to lure Syria into a wider conflict.

The pretext for Israel's unilateral attack on a neighbor was the suicide bombing of a restaurant in Haifa by a young woman from Jenin. The connection seems tenuous at best. On the other hand, it is in keeping with Washington's premise that the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were appropriate responses to the 9/11 al-Qaeda terror attacks. That premise, in turn, was based on Israel's long-standing policy of "pre-emptive" attacks.

"Israel will not be deterred from protecting its citizens and will strike its enemies in every place and in every way," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told journalists after the attack on Syria. In truth, not only are Israelis less "protected" than ever, but if Israel tries to bomb every country which harbors people who sympathize with the Palestinian cause, it will have to bomb the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and even the U.S. and Israel itself.

The world condemned the unprovoked attack on Syria, a country doing its best to toe the line in Washington's war on terrorism. The only beef the United Nations has with Damascus is that Syria has overstayed its welcome in Lebanon. Certainly Israel, which has brutally occupied the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights for 36 years, can't point fingers on that account.

If Israel can bomb Syria with impunity, what country will be its next target? Lebanon? Iran? According to Richard Cohen's column in the Oct. 7 Washington Post, Israel lashing out against Syria wasn't a matter of good policy-it was out of fury.

Cognizant of the ever-present threat of a U.S. veto, the U.N. Security Council has yet to condemn the Israeli attack. Because the U.S. unabashedly vetoes any U.N. reprimand of Israel-including a resolution scolding Israel for threatening to kill or exile Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, or for actually killing U.N. personnel such as Ian Hook-Israel rightly figures Washington will always block the world's wrath.

Indeed, President George W. Bush seemed to approve Israel's latest violation of international law. The president said to reporters he'd told Sharon in a phone call Oct. 5, the day of the Israeli attack, that "Israel's got a right to defend herself; that Israel mustn't feel constrained in terms of defending the homeland."

Israel also was emboldened to attack its neighbor by the Syria Accountability Act, currently wending through Congress, which seeks to impose sanctions on Damascus. In it Israel, and its U.S. supporters in Congress, repeat a litany of accusations which sound suspiciously like those leveled against Iraq. Their hope clearly is that the same tired lies-weapons of mass destruction, biological warheads, support for terrorism-will work again. With U.S. politicians heaping insults upon Syria, the time was ripe for Israel to lob a bomb or two.

Just as Americans and Britons are questioning their leaders' honesty in presenting their case for the war on Iraq, Israelis should now be asking their prime minister some tough questions of their own. The biggest question is why are they in greater danger with each passing month than they were when Sharon first made his provocative assault on Haram al-Sharif on Sept. 28, 2000? After provoking demonstrations and, finally, full-scale warfare, he took office promising greater security. Are his tactics preventing or inspiring more terrorism? Israelis might want to know.

What about Sharon's "security wall"? Israel already has built 84 miles of the wall, mostly on Palestinian land. The 60-yard-wide complex of 25-foot-high walls, electronic sensors, ditches, roads and steel barriers, built at a cost of $4 million per mile, may in the end cost more than a billion dollars. Will this wall actually stop suicide bombers from entering Israel? …