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Forget Hizbullah; Syria's the One By: Ariel Natan Pasko
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 15, 2003

The time has finally come for Israel to take the gloves off and start to hit hard. It's time for Israelis to get over their "Syrian Syndrome," that irrational and deep-seated fear of Syria, dating back to the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  The Syria of today might not be much different than the Syria of 1973, but Israel has changed dramatically. Israel's military in 2003 is more advanced. Israel's economy - while still a little slow - is exponentially ahead of Syria's. In fact, by every measure of national power Israel is well beyond Syria, and the gap has grown not shrunk since 1973. So get over it, Syria is a paper tiger, or a basket case.

Even after renewed attacks on Israel, why bother with Hizbollah? Why play Syria's and Iran's game? Why pretend that Hizbollah is calling the shots? Why give immunity to the real culprits? Put the blame squarely where it belongs: on Syria.

One could try to blame the Lebanese government for not doing enough to tone down Hizbollah. The Lebanese military really should take up positions in Southern Lebanon and de-militarize Hizbollah. Israel has left Lebanese soil. Ask the UN; for once they support our position and agree with us. But alas, Lebanon is not an independent state; Lebanon is a puppet regime controlled by Damascus.

So Israel needs to put the blame where it belongs; on the only power capable of reining in Hizbollah, of disarming them, of cutting off their flow of weapons from Iran, and of discouraging them from attacking Israel -- and that's Syria.

Syria uses Hizbollah as a proxy army to keep pressure on Israel. Notice the Syrian occupation army in Lebanon never attacks Israel; it's always Hizbollah. Thus, Syria cannot be directly blamed for the attack. Well, forget the small fry; blame Syria!

First, the Israeli government should make it a cornerstone of it's foreign policy to take every diplomatic opportunity to raise the issue of Syria' continuing violation of UN Security Council Resolution 520, which calls on all foreign forces - including Syria - to leave Lebanon. What a joke that Syria sits on the UN Security Council, while it violates a Security Council resolution. No wonder many people in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere hold the UN in such low esteem. And Israel should more vigorously lobby Washington to pressure Syria until Syria gets out of Lebanon.

In the beginning of May, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Damascus and Beirut. After leaving Damascus, he said in a Beirut press conference that he and Assad discussed "all of the outstanding issues" that have hindered U.S.-Syrian relations in the past. That included frank talks about Weapons of Mass Destruction; Syria's support for Hizbollah; and closing the Iraq-Syria border "and keeping it sealed" to technology, fighters and Iraqi authority figures.  Powell made it clear to Assad, that the U.S. commitment to Middle East peace "would include Syria and Lebanon, and would include the Golan Heights." But, Powell made no mention of speaking to Assad about getting Syria out of Lebanon.

Later, speaking in Beirut -- not Damascus -- Powell assured Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of U.S. support for "an independent and prosperous Lebanon free of all - all - foreign forces." But the main focus of Powell's visit to Syria, it seems, was to prevent it from helping out Saddam's buddies, to "give up the goods" on WMDs, to stop their support for terrorist groups (which they haven't) and to soften up their rejection of the Road Map. To this end, Powell dangled the Golan Heights as a reward for good behavior, despite Syria's opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq and despite their facilitation of "volunteer fighters" to help Saddam. Little focus was put on getting Syria out of Lebanon, and nothing has happened on that front since Powell's visit.

Yet, on May 2nd -- the day before Powell's meeting with Assad -- in Washington, Senator Barbara Boxer, D-CA, and Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA, introduced the Senate version of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 (S 982).  The bill's purposes are to 1) halt Syrian support for terrorism; 2) end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon; 3) stop Syria's production of Weapons of Mass Destruction; and 4) hold Syria accountable for the illegal Syrian-Iraqi trade, which provided Iraq with the weapons that killed American troops.

The House version of the Act was introduced on April 10.  Both bills now have a solid majority of support in the U.S. Congress. Sponsors and supporters of the bill claim it will weaken Syria's ability to wage wars, to threaten its neighbors and to destabilize the region. So, there clearly is support for pushing Syria out of Lebanon emanating from the U.S. Congress.  Israel should remind the Bush Administration of that.

Today, after the United State's victory in Iraq and the inclusion of Iraqi Shi'ites in its governing council, it would be hard for Hizbollah or Iran to portray the U.S. as out to get the Shi'ites in Lebanon just because they oppose Hizbollah. Ending the vicious Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and dismantling Hizbollah as a military force there, would also serve U.S. and Israeli interests in putting a firm limit to Iran's influence in the area. This no doubt would have a positive effect in weakening Islamic Jihad -- and to a lesser extent Hamas -- in Damascus and Gaza. Iran is already on the American and Israeli agenda, due to it's closing in on real nuclear capability. Anything that weakens Iran's ability to "export" the revolution is good for the region and the world.

Second, in blaming Syria's dictatorial regime for Hizbollah's attacks on Israel, the Israeli government should announce a new policy of retaliatory raids against Syrian military positions in Lebanon. Why should Syria be immune from the costs of its pro-Hizbollah policies? After announcing this change in policy of holding Syria accountable for Hizbollah attacks, the Israeli government should begin a policy of "graduated escalation" beginning with hitting Syrian positions in Lebanon.

Everyone should remember the beginning of the Lebanon War in 1982, when Israel warned Syria to stay out of its way but Syria didn't listen. When confronted, Israel shot down more than 90 Syrian planes with just one loss. Today, Israel has significantly increased its military superiority over Syria since1982. If Syria doesn't stop the Hizbollah attacks and prepare to end its occupation of Lebanon, the next phase would include selected targets in Syria itself. This "graduated escalation" would put the issue of the vicious Syrian occupation of Lebanon since 1976 and their support for Hizbollah terror against Israel on the top of the American, EU, and UN agenda.

Israel and the United States have to support a free and independent Lebanon, free of Syrian occupation, free of Hizbollah terrorism, free to return to its former glory. It's in Israel's interest; it's in Lebanon's interest; it's in the United States' interest; and it should be a top priority to demonstrate to Assad that the policy would also be in the Syrian people's interest.

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