Syria next?

April 09, 2003

* This dispatch concerns the situation regarding Syria following the American-led invasion of Iraq

 

CONTENTS

1. "The Syrians are playing with fire"
2. "Syria now top US target for 'regime change'" (Daily Telegraph, April 8, 2003)
3. "Syria and Iran must get their turn" (By Michael Ledeen, National Post, Canada, April 7, 2003)
4. "Bashar's game: What is Syria up to?" (By Eyal Zisser, April 7, 2003).
5. "U.S. spots missile launcher in western Iraq" (Middle East Newsline, April 4, 2003)
6. "Syria gives passports to suicide bombers" (London Times, April 2, 2003)



“THE SYRIANS ARE PLAYING WITH FIRE”

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five articles, with summaries first for those who don't have time to read them in full:

1. "Syria now top US target for 'regime change'" (Daily Telegraph, London, April 8, 2003). "One of the main subjects on the agenda of the Belfast summit yesterday was Syria, the Pentagon's next likely target for 'regime change' amid suspicions it allowed Saddam Hussein to transfer weapons of mass destruction within its borders... American officials stress, however, that regime change can be achieved without military action. There are strong hopes in Washington for a popular revolution in Iran by democratic opposition groups inspired by what has happened in Iraq."

2. "Syria and Iran must get their turn" (By Michael Ledeen, National Post, Canada, April 7, 2003) "... As for Syria, [the U.S. State department] has long considered the Assads potential allies (remember how Warren Christopher waited patiently on the runway in Damascus during one of his 'peace process' jaunts, only to be dissed? Remember how Henry Kissinger once called Hafez Assad 'the most fascinating leader in the Middle East'?) and until a few days ago was working on a strategic partnership ... But war has a way of destroying the self-serving ambiguities of the diplomatic crowd, and in recent days Americans have heard some pretty tough words from both the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Secretary of Defence, warning Syria and Iran to stop their lethal support of Saddam Hussein's crumbling regime, lest the United States treat them as hostile countries... President Bush has said that he will not support a Palestinian state that is governed by people hostile to democracy. Yet it is impossible for a democratic Palestine to emerge, let alone survive, so long as the dominant countries in the region are tyrannical supporters of terrorism."

3. "Bashar's game: What is Syria up to?" (By Eyal Zisser of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Zisser is one of Israel's leading experts on Syria. April 7, 2003). "Even those who long ago abandoned any expectations of a fundamental transformation in Syrian policy under Bashar al-Assad have nevertheless been surprised by Assad's approach to the war in Iraq. For many, this posture seems to invite a direct confrontation with the United States of the sort that his father, Hafez al-Assad, would never have risked. Indeed, Bashar has consciously chosen to come out against the Anglo-American war on Iraq and even sought to lead the Arab camp opposed to the United States."

4. "U.S. spots missile launcher in western Iraq" (Middle East Newsline, April 4, 2003). "Syria could also be the destination of Saddam and his family, who are said to be fleeing Iraq. The London-based Iraqi National Congress reports that a convoy of 60 vehicles have left the northern city of Mosul for Syria. The group said the convoy is rumored to contain members of Saddam's family ... On Friday, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily reported that Saddam's wife, Sajadeh, escaped Iraq and has found refuge in the Iraqi embassy in Damascus."

5. "Syria gives passports to suicide bombers" (Times, London, April 2, 2003). Britain's most elite military unit, the SAS has arrested four busloads of suspected suicide bombers and would-be fighters in Iraq's western desert. "The men, who are being held as prisoners of war, came from various Arab countries but all carried Syrian passports ... British sources believe that up to 600 volunteers have crossed from Syria into Iraq or are about to do so. Sending fighters to join a combatant army is a clear breach of neutrality. 'The Syrians are playing with fire,' one source said yesterday."

-- Tom Gross


FULL ARTICLES

SYRIA NOW TOP U.S. TARGET FOR “REGIME CHANGE”

Syria now top US target for 'regime change'
By Toby Harnden
The Daily Telegraph
April 8, 2003

One of the main subjects on the agenda of the Belfast summit yesterday was Syria, the Pentagon's next likely target for "regime change" amid suspicions it allowed Saddam Hussein to transfer weapons of mass destruction within its borders.

Although President George W Bush did not include Syria in his "axis of evil" of Iran, Iraq and North Korea in January 2001, since then American officials say they have seen growing evidence of support for terrorism by Damascus.

American officials stress, however, that regime change can be achieved without military action. There are strong hopes in Washington for a popular revolution in Iran by democratic opposition groups inspired by what has happened in Iraq.

President Bashar Assad, Syria's leader, has led Arab opposition to the Iraq war, stating that he hoped Saddam would remain in power. Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, recently accused Syria of providing military equipment to Saddam.

Some US officials are also convinced that Mr Assad has actively collaborated with Saddam and agreed to take weapons, including Scud missiles, from him so they would not be discovered in Iraq by United Nations inspectors.

"Significant equipment, assets and perhaps even expertise was transferred, the first signs of which appeared in August or September 2002," a Bush administration official told The Telegraph.

"It is quite possible that Iraqi nuclear scientists went to Syria and that Saddam's regime may retain part of its army there."

Increasingly tough rhetoric from the Bush administration had made little fundamental difference to the Syrians, he added.

"They behave only slightly when they're scared to death but the change is only limited and tactical." Satellite photographs revealed heavily guarded convoys moving from Iraq to Syria last year.

The official said: "Put it this way, they wouldn't have needed that kind of security to move cattle."

The official said that there were also well-founded fears that Iraq and Libya had also been co-operating and that weapons proliferation in the Middle East was one of the major problems facing the world. Colonel Gaddafi's regime was "scary close" to developing a nuclear weapon, he said.

In December, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, said: "We are certain that Iraq has recently moved chemical or biological weapons into Syria."

This claim was subsequently investigated by John Bolton, US under-secretary of state for arms control and a prominent hawk in the Bush administration. Israeli sources said Mr Bolton told Mr Sharon that war with Iraq would force Syria and Libya to "come off the fence".

When asked by The Telegraph last week whether Saddam had exported some of his weapons to Syria, Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary said: "We just don't know."

There is firm resistance within the US State Department to Mr Rumsfeld's hardline stance on Syria with many officials arguing, like their British counterparts, that Syria can be a partner in the war against terrorism if it is given encouragement rather than being threatened.

Richard Murphy, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 1983 to 1989, said he did not believe armed conflict with Syria was on the immediate horizon.

"Talk of a broader military conflict with Syria does not represent a decision taken by American policy makers. This is the view among the neo-conservatives, some of whom are in the administration.

"There's a perception that the time has come to spread democracy in the Middle East. Their view is that the US paid heavily on September 11 for having not stood by its principles in dealing with autocracies in the Middle East."

But neo-conservatives, former Democrats with socially liberal views but a hawkish and ambitious vision of the use of American power abroad, include Mr Wolfowitz and Mr Bolton and enjoy growing influence within the White House.

 

SYRIA AND IRAN MUST GET THEIR TURN

Syria and Iran must get their turn
By Michael Ledeen
The National Post
April 7, 2003

A year ago, as I was finishing the first draft of The War Against the Terror Masters, I wrote that Syria and Iran could not tolerate an American success in Iraq, because it would fatally undermine the authority of the tyrants in Damascus and Tehran. Since the United States has taken too long to move on from Afghanistan to challenge the regimes of the terror masters, they had forged an alliance and would co-operate in sending terror squads against coalition armed forces, with the intention of repeating the Lebanese scenarios in the mid-Eighties (against the United States) and the late Nineties (against Israel).

U.S. diplomats didn't believe a word of it. After all, as Richard Armitage, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, said just a few weeks ago, "Iran is a democracy," and thus is qualitatively different from Iraq and North Korea. The State Department has been pursuing some sort of deal with the Iranian regime since the start of the Bush administration, and didn't want to be bothered -- either with the facts, or with those annoying presidential statements that branded Iran a terror state governed by self-appointed religious fanatics. As for Syria, Foggy Bottom has long considered the Assads potential allies (remember how Warren Christopher waited patiently on the runway in Damascus during one of his "peace process" jaunts, only to be dissed? Remember how Henry Kissinger once called Hafez Assad "the most fascinating leader in the Middle East"?) and until a few days ago was working on a strategic partnership.

But war has a way of destroying the self-serving ambiguities of the diplomatic crowd, and in recent days Americans have heard some pretty tough words from both the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Secretary of Defence, warning Syria and Iran to stop their lethal support of Saddam Hussein's crumbling regime, lest the United States treat them as hostile countries.

Just as I have been saying for these many frustrating months, the United States would find itself in a regional conflict, whatever it wanted, and whatever fanciful ideas the likes of Armitage and policy-planning chief Richard Haass conjured up for their personal satisfaction.

Now, Eli Lake of United Press International reports the government is aware of Iranian terrorist operations inside Iraq, and there have been many stories reporting Syria's campaign to send terrorists across the border to attack U.S. forces. In truth, Americans didn't need intelligence to know this was going on, because the Iranian and Syrian tyrants had announced it publicly. Assad gave an interview recently in which he proclaimed in words that could have been taken right out of my book that Lebanon was the model for the struggle that had to be waged in Iraq against coalition forces. And Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, gave a speech a few weeks ago in which he said the presence of American troops in Iraq would be even worse for Iran than the hated regime of Saddam Hussein.

So they are coming to kill coalition forces, which means that there is no more time for diplomatic "solutions." The United States will have to deal with the terror masters, here and now. Iran, at least, offers Americans the possibility of a memorable victory, because the Iranian people openly loath the regime, and will enthusiastically combat it, if only the United States supports them in their just struggle. One may legitimately ask if the Iraqi people are fully prepared for the burdens of democracy after the mind-numbing years of Saddam (I think they are, mind you, but the question is fair), but there is no doubt that the Iranians are up to it. And Syria cannot stand alone against a successful democratic revolution that topples tyrannical regimes in Kabul, Tehran and Iraq.

This is the path the correct path that President George W. Bush has charted, despite the opposition of so many of his diplomats, and despite the near-total indifference of the Western press to the plight of the Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian people. It is the path that most fully expresses the American revolutionary tradition, and gives the peoples of the Middle East the chance to recapture their dignity by empowering them to govern their own lands. Finally, for those obsessed by the Arab-Israeli question, it is the best chance for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. President Bush has said that he will not support a Palestinian state that is governed by people hostile to democracy. Yet it is impossible for a democratic Palestine to emerge, let alone survive, so long as the dominant countries in the region are tyrannical supporters of terrorism.

If, at long last, the United States is going to transform the Middle East in the name of the democratic revolution, it is madness to entrust this task to a Department of State that does not believe in it. The State Department, and the CIA, does not believe that democracy can succeed in the Middle East. That is why they have long supported a coup in Baghdad, rather than regime change. That is why they have violently opposed the Iraqi National Congress, which has fought for democracy for more than a decade, only to be repeatedly betrayed and sabotaged by the U.S. government.

Yet the U.S. Congress, seemingly unaware of the urgency of the moment and the years of blunders that contributed so much to the current crisis, has now voted to put all the money earmarked for the "reconstruction" of Iraq which is to say, the creation of the post-war Iraqi polity and society entirely in the hands of the Department of State.

If this is permitted to stand, it will make the creation of Iraqi democracy even more difficult than circumstances demand. The White House has said that it opposes this centralization of authority in the hands of the State Department, and it is likely that President Bush will veto the proposal, as he should. But, like U.S. diplomats, American elected representatives need a crash course in democratic revolution, the better to advance their cause, defeat their enemies and save the lives of the incredible fighting men and women.

The United States has written an exceptional page of military history in Iraq, but it can be undone by suicidal political blunders in the region in the very near future. It's time to bring down the other terror masters.

Faster, please.

(Michael Ledeen is the resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.)

 

BASHAR’S GAME: WHAT IS SYRIA UP TO?

Bashar's game: What is Syria up to?
By Eyal Zisser
Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
April 7, 2003

Even those who long ago abandoned any expectations of a fundamental transformation in Syrian policy under Bashar al-Assad have nevertheless been surprised by Assad's approach to the war in Iraq. For many, this posture seems to invite a direct confrontation with the United States of the sort that his father, Hafez al-Assad, would never have risked. Indeed, Bashar has consciously chosen to come out against the Anglo-American war on Iraq and even sought to lead the Arab camp opposed to the United States.

In an interview in the Lebanese daily al-Safir a few days after the beginning of the war, Bashar insisted that the war is part of larger and more sinister American plan to redraw the map of the Middle East in the service of Israeli interests. He added that Syria was liable to be the next American target in the region but that it would not stand idly by. He also stressed that as long as Israel exists, it constitutes a threat to Syria and to all the Arabs. It is therefore not surprising that Syrian media have recently become a platform for vicious anti- American propaganda, unrestrained attacks on America's "evil and Satanic offensive," and adulation for "the brave and admirable resistance" of the Iraqi people.

The "Syrian street" has added its voice with a series of huge demonstrations in support of Iraq and against the American campaign. Nevertheless, none of this is nearly as significant as the matter of Bashar's willingness to assist the Iraqi war effort, which emerged with great fanfare several days after the outbreak of hostilities. That happened when senior American officials, especially Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, accused Damascus of aiding Iraq in a way that could endanger American forces.

According to Rumsfeld, the Syrians transferred or allowed the use of their territory to transfer military equipment, including night vision goggles, to Iraq. According to reports from Israel, Syrian had also permitted the Iraqis to conceal military equipment in Syria, including even proscribed materials such as unconventional weapons or surface-to-surface missiles. The Syrians, of course, quickly denied such charges, dismissing them as Zionist propaganda aimed at driving a wedge between Syria and the United States or, alternatively, as an American attempt to prepare the ground for a possible American assault on Syria.

All this raises some obvious questions about Bashar's behavior. Is he aware of the possible consequences of his actions and is he not concerned that his policies might put Syria on a collision course with the United States? Does he not have a true gasp of the situation because of unreliable information or faulty judgment? And, finally, is he really in charge?

While there are no unequivocal answers to these questions, it is worth recalling that there is nothing new in Bashar's behavior. Ever since he took power following his father's death, Syrian policy with respect to Iraq has constantly edged close to the threshold of American tolerance, though without ever actually crossing it.

For many months, Syria has pushed for warmer relations with Iraq and aligned itself with Iraq in the latter's political struggle with Washington. In return, Syria has received 150,000-200,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day, in clear contravention of the sanctions on Iraq. Finally, there are persistent reports that Syria has ignored the use of its territory to smuggle weapons into Iraq.

Syria's current posture is therefore fully consistent with its pre-war policies, and any change in the rules of the game has come from the American side. After all, for several months before the start of the war, Washington had turned a blind eye to Bashar's actions or, at worst, lodged some mild verbal protests. Only after the fighting began did it choose to rebuke Bashar for acting in ways that had previously been overlooked. Still, it is worthwhile trying to assess Bashar's motives in adopting such a blatantly provocative posture. In the first place, there is no doubt that Bashar is acting under pressure. He senses that Syria could become a target of future American wrath once the war in Iraq is over. Moreover, he is acting out of anti-American instinct unmitigated by calculations of strategic interest that might argue in favor of a more cautious approach.

Secondly, Bashar is determined to strengthen his standing in the Syrian street and, by extension, the Arab street, and he is therefore prepared to adopt a populist stance rather than act contrary to prevailing moods. That may well suggest a lack of political maturity, selfconfidence and experience in a leader who has not yet reached forty years of age. That raises questions about where all this might lead. There are many indications that Washington and Damascus may be on a collision course. However, it is possible that Secretary Rumsfeld does not represent the dominant trend in the Administration but only the hawkish school of thought that believes that Syria ought to be a future target of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example, has been far less aggressive in referring to Syria. Indeed, he insists that Damascus can choose which path it wants to pursue, i.e., that all the options are still open.

In the past, Washington adopted an accommodating approach to Damascus precisely because the Syrians themselves refrained from crossing any "red lines." Every time their actions seemed about to provoke some American reaction, they pulled back. In Bashar's own view, he has not yet crossed such a line but has only persisted, since the outbreak of war, in doing what he had been doing for many months before. It is therefore likely that, having provoked a signal of serious American concern, he will now display more caution. That, in any event, is what his father would have done.

It is American indulgence that encouraged a show of Syrian defiance. That defiance may well pay off for Bashar if it enhances his popular standing in Syria and elsewhere while preserving the possibility of a future reconciliation with Washington if the peace process in the region is resumed after the war. But for that possibility to materialize, George W. Bush, Jr., must also follow in his father's footsteps. If he does not, Bashar may pay a heavy price.

 

U.S. SPOTS MISSILE LAUNCHER IN WESTERN IRAQ

Iraq and Syria full partners
U.S spots missile launcher in western Iraq
Middle East Newsline
April 4, 2003

The United States has spotted what appeared to be an Iraqi missile launcher near the Syrian border.

U.S. intelligence sources said a Scud-class transporter erector launcher was seen in western Iraq near the Syrian border last week. The sources said the launcher was driven by truck from Syria, operated its radar system overnight and returned to Syria.

"We are not sure what kind of launcher it was, but it appeared to be that for the Al Husseini medium-range missile," an intelligence source said. "The launcher came from and returned to Syria."

The Al Husseini has a range of 650 kilometers and was launched against Israel in the 1991 Gulf war. Iraq is said to have between 20 and 80 medium-range missiles in its arsenal.

The sources said U.S. reconnaissance aircraft did not try to destroy the suspected Scud launcher. They said the Bush administration has relayed its concern to Damascus.

U.S. officials said Syria has so far ignored warnings from the Bush administration to halt weapons supplies to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused Damascus of supplying Iraq with night-vision goggles and other advanced systems produced by Russia and other former East Bloc states.

"We have seen that Syria is continuing to conduct itself the way it was prior to the time I said what I said," Rumsfeld said on Thursday.

U.S. military officials said British and U.S. special operations forces have been operating in western Iraq. They said they have not found any traces of missiles or weapons of mass destruction.

"They [coalition forces] have been cutting some lines of communication," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. "They've been raiding some facilities. They've been going to some suspected weapon of mass destruction locations. We've had a series of direct- action raids as well as interdiction."

McChrystal said coalition forces struck Iraqi command forces and headquarters in western Iraq. This included strikes on Iraqi units in Rutba, near the Jordanian border, and the capture of an Iraqi air base in the H-2 region.

Syria could also be the destination of Saddam and his family, who are said to be fleeing Iraq. The London-based Iraqi National Congress reports that a convoy of 60 vehicles have left the northern city of Mosul for Syria. The group said the convoy is rumored to contain members of Saddam's family.

On Friday, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily reported that Saddam's wife, Sajadeh, escaped Iraq and has found refuge in the Iraqi embassy in Damascus. The newspaper, quoting U.S. sources, said Sajadeh had sought to receive asylum on the eve of the war from an Arab League member, but her request was denied.

 

SYRIA GIVES PASSPORTS TO SUICIDE BOMBERS

Syria gives passports to suicide bombers
By Michael Binyon
The Times (of London)
April 2, 2003

The SAS has arrested four busloads of suspected suicide bombers and would-be fighters in Iraq's western desert.

The men, who are being held as prisoners of war, came from various Arab countries but all carried Syrian passports. They are thought to be among thousands of Arab zealots making their way to the battle front.

Syria has issued about 2,000 passports to people volunteering to fight for President Saddam Hussein in recent weeks, raising serious concerns in Britain and America, which suspects Damascus of smuggling war supplies to Iraq. The coalition is to protest to the Syrians.

Syrian officials have made no secret of their sympathy for the resistance of "the Iraqi people" to coalition attacks, although they have not voiced public support for Saddam.

Damascus has rejected accusations by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, that Syria has provided Iraq with night-vision goggles.

The big worry is that many of the volunteers receiving passports may be suicide bombers, including Palestinians hoping to avenge themselves for US support of Israel. Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi Information Minister, said last week that up to 4,000 suicide bombers were ready.

British sources believe that up to 600 volunteers have crossed from Syria into Iraq or are about to do so. Sending fighters to join a combatant army is a clear breach of neutrality. "The Syrians are playing with fire," one source said yesterday.

In Jerusalem, Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli Defence Minister, said that Israel viewed as "very grave" Syria's role in helping the volunteers. He also issued a veiled warning to President Assad over comments in a Lebanese newspaper that Syria could be the next target in America's War on Terror "as long as Israel exists". Mr Mofaz said that Mr Assad had effectively ruled out a peace agreement with Israel.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.