Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The U.S and Israel Threaten Syria and Its President

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The U.S and Israel Threaten Syria and Its President

Article excerpt

The Bush team, which should be acting as a reality check, has fallen so deep into the pocket of Ariel Sharon you can't even find it any more. -Thomas L. Friedman, Oct. 2 column, The New York Times,

As if their arguments for going to war in Iraq were not implausible enough, the Bush administration's response to Israel's Oct. 5 bombing of an alleged terrorist training camp near Damascus reached new and dizzying heights of absurdity. The air attack, which wounded several people, was condemned by most of Europe and the Arab world as an act of illegal aggression that threatened to escalate Middle East violence. To George W. Bush, however, the unprovoked bombing of Syria was an act of selfdefense. Expressing his strongest support yet for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Bush likened Israel's action to America's war on terrorism and said, "Israel must not feel constrained. The decisions [Sharon] makes to defend her people are valid decisions."

Like an antiphonal chorus Israeli and U.S. officials took turns condemning Syria. A State Department spokesman reiterated the claim that the Syrians were harboring terrorists, and demanded that they "make a clean break from those responsible for planning and directing terrorist attacks from Syrian soil." Sharon's chief adviser, Dore Gold, chimed in, saying, "There is an axis of terror that begins in Iran, and it reaches the Gaza Strip, and its main crossroads is in Syria."

Nearly a week after the bombing, American officials said they had received "human intelligence" reports indicating that the Syrian site might in the future be used to launch attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. The likely source of the reports was the rump intelligence unit in Sharon's office that regularly reports to a similar agency in the Pentagon (see September 2003 Washington Report, p. 57).

According to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the decision to retaliate for Palestinian suicide bombings by attacking Syria was made in August, after a Hamas bus bombing killed 23 people. Israel's F-16s went into action the day after a second suicide bombing in Haifa on Oct. 4.

Neither Israel nor Washington offered any convincing evidence linking Syria to the terrorist actions. The camp that Israel claimed was used by militant groups had been abandoned since the 1970s according to nearby residents, who said they used the wooded grove for picnics and as a children's play area. Islamic Jihad, which is usually quick to claim credit for suicide bombings, said it had no "military presence" in Syria. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it owned the base, but that it had been deserted for years.

Attempts to blame Syria for the actions of desperate Palestinians proved even less plausible when facts became known about one of the suicide bombers. The Haifa bombing was carried out by 27-year old Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, a law student from Jenin who needed no urging from the Syrians. Last June she had seen Israeli troops shoot and kill her brother and cousin while they were inside their family home. She undoubtedly also had witnessed the Israeli army's devastation of Jenin in April 2002.

Eliminating representatives of militant organizations from Syria won't end terrorist operations in Israel, according to most analysts. What actually motivates U.S. and Israeli policy against Syria is the long-range ambition of the pro-Israel ideologues who came to power with Bush, and whose agenda calls for replacing existing Middle East regimes with U.S.-style democracies, extending America's geopolitical control over the region, eliminating support for Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance forces, and ensuring Israel's security. Iraq was the first to fall; Bush has made it clear that Syria and Iran are the next targets.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of State John Bolton repeatedly accuse Syria of such crimes as hiding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, harboring terrorists, and developing chemical and biological weapons. …

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