Syria could be next, warns Washington
Ed Vulliamy in Washington
Sunday April 13, 2003 - TheObserver
The United States has pledged to tackle the Syrian-
backed Hizbollah group in the next phase of its 'war on
terror' in a move which could threaten military action
against President Bashar Assad's regime in Damascus.
The move is part of Washington's efforts to persuade
Israel to support a new peace settlement with the
Palestinians. Washington has promised Israel that it
will take 'all effective action' to cut off Syria's
support for Hizbollah - implying a military strike if
necessary, sources in the Bush administration have told
The Observer .
Hizbollah is a Shia Muslim organisation based in
Lebanon, whose fighters have attacked northern Israeli
settlements and harassed occupying Israeli troops to
the point of forcing an Israeli withdrawal from
southern Lebanon three years ago.
The new US undertaking to Israel to deal with Hizbollah
via its Syrian sponsors has been made over recent days
during meetings between administration officials and
Israeli diplomats in Washington, and Americans talking
to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. It
would be part of a deal designed to entice Israel into
the so-called road map to peace package that would
involve the Jewish state pulling out of the Palestinian
West Bank, occupied since 1967.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has so far rejected the
road map initiative - charted by the US with its ally,
Britain - which also calls for mutual recognition
between Israel and a new Palestinian state, structured
according to US-backed reforms. The American guarantee
would be to take armed action if necessary to cut off
Syrian support for Hizbollah, and stop further
sponsorship for the group by Iran.
'If you control Iraq, you can affect the Syrian and
Iranian sponsorship of Hizbollah, both geographically
and politically,' says Ivo Daalder of the Brookings
Institution think-tank in Washington.
'The United States will make it very clear, quietly and
publicly, that Baathist Syria may come to an end if it
does not stop its support of Hizbollah.'
The undertaking dovetails conveniently into 'phase
three' of what President George Bush calls the 'war on
terror' and his pledge to go after all countries
accused of harbouring terrorists.
It also fits into calls by hawks inside and aligned to
the administration who believe that war in Iraq was
first stage in a wider war for American control of the
region. Threats against Syria come daily out of
Hawks in and close to the Bush White House have
prepared the ground for an attack on Syria, raising the
spectre of Hizbollah, of alleged Syrian plans to wel
come refugees from Saddam Hussein's fallen regime, and
of what the administration insists is Syrian support
for Iraq during the war.
Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz - regarded as
the real architect of the Iraqi war and its aftermath -
said on Thursday that 'the Syrians have been shipping
killers into Iraq to try and kill Americans', adding:
'We need to think about what our policy is towards a
country that harbours terrorists or harbours war
'There will have to be change in Syria, plainly,' said
Washingtom intelligence sources claim that weapons of
mass destruction that Saddam was alleged to have
possessed were shipped to Syria after inspectors were
sent by the United Nations to find them.
One of the chief ideologists behind the war, Richard
Perle, yesterday warned that the US would be compelled
to act against Syria if it emerged that weapons of mass
destruction had been moved there by Saddam's fallen