I’ve pointed out before the problems with Iran supplying terrorists at one of Iraq’s borders – this WSJ editorial addresses the problem of Syria doing the same at another of Iraq’s borders. I think we definitely need to address those external problems as part of the effort to complete the Iraq action.
Wall Street Journal Editorial
Serious About Syria?
December 15, 2004; Page A20
In the fall of 1998, the Turkish army mobilized for war against Syria. For years, the Kurdish PKK had trained in Syria and used it as a base from which to wage a terrorist campaign in neighboring Turkey, at a cost of some 35,000 lives. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan lived more or less openly in Damascus. Years of Turkish diplomatic pressure on Syria to close the camps and expel Ocalan had been unavailing. Finally, the Turks made it plain to then Syrian dictator Hafez Assad that he faced a choice between expelling the PKK for good and having his country invaded. Assad capitulated. Within a year, Ocalan was in jail and the PKK had ceased its attacks.
We recall this history on news that Syria is abetting the insurgency in Iraq. Actually, it’s not news – the U.S. has been at least partly aware of Damascus’s role since April 2003, when GIs began finding Syrian visas in the passports of killed or captured fedayeen. But the matter is getting some fresh attention, thanks in part to explicit warnings given this month to President Bush by Iraqi President Ghazi Yawar and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
It helps to understand the full scope of Syrian malfeasance. So far, the U.S. has accused Syria only of allowing foreign fighters to transit to Iraq. But a report in the Washington Post notes that a global positioning signal receiver found in a Fallujah bomb factory “contained waypoints originating in Western Syria.”
Fedayeen interviewed by Western media say they received training in light weapons, explosives and hit-and-run operations at camps in Syria. These camps are likely financed by the $2.5 billion Saddam Hussein is believed to have stashed in Syrian banks before the war. In April, Jordanian intelligence captured an al Qaeda cell as it planned a chemical-weapons attack in Amman. That cell, too, was apparently trained in Syria.
Syria supplements its tactical support for Iraqi terrorists with overt political support. “Syria’s interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq,” said Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa in early 2003. “The resistance of the Iraqis is extremely important. It is a heroic resistance to the U.S.-British occupation of their country.”
In an interview in the Lebanese paper Al-Safir, Syrian President Bashar Assad was no less explicit when he offered Lebanon circa 1983 as an example of how the U.S. was to be fought in Iraq: “Lebanon was under Israeli occupation, up to its capital, but we did not consider that a disaster. Why? Because it was very clear there are ways to resist. The problem is not the occupation, but how people deal with it. … [In Iraq] the solution is resistance.”
In the case of Lebanon, that resistance took the form of hostage taking and Hezbollah truck bombs aimed at U.S. Marine barracks. Syria continues openly to support Hezbollah. It also gives sanctuary to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other anti-Israel terrorist groups. When Colin Powell suggested their Damascus headquarters be shut down on a visit there in 2003, Mr. Assad contemptuously replied they were only press offices.
Asked about Syrian behavior, U.S. officials tend to say things like “Syria needs to do a lot more” to stop terrorist infiltration, as if Syria is doing anything at all. In testimony late last year to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Cofer Black listed Syria’s extensive links to terror groups, then told the panel he “remained optimistic that continued engagement with Syria will one day lead to a change in Syrian behavior.”
It hasn’t. In May, President Bush ordered sanctions on Syria under Congress’s Syria Accountability Act of 2003. But U.S. trade with Syria was already minimal, so the sanctions had little effect, and even that was offset by a trade deal the EU reached with Damascus the same month.
Much of the problem here is that the Syrians don’t take U.S. threats seriously. “Congressional delegations continue to come,” Mr. Assad said earlier this year, “and there are negative declarations and positive declarations. But to date, nothing is clear.” The speculation in the Arab media is that U.S. sanctions were deliberately toothless – a sop, as one Lebanese columnist put it, to “the Jewish lobby and a few hard-liners in the U.S. administration.” Mr. Assad’s calculation is that the U.S. is too tied down in Iraq to entertain any action against Syria.
Maybe. But the fact remains that Syria is providing material support to terrorist groups killing American soldiers in Iraq while openly calling on Iraqis to join the “resistance.” So far, the Bush Administration has responded with mixed political signals and weak gestures. That’s not something that impresses the Assad family, as the Turks found out. But as the Turks found out as well, there are ways to get the message across to this regime.