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October 15, 2003

The March on Damascus: A New Epoch Unfolds


by Ramzy Baroud

The epochal Israeli bombing inside Syria on October 05 has practically rendered the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between the two countries irrelevant. By bombing the purportedly 'militant training camp', as portrayed by Israel, near Damascus, the latest act of antagonism flustered the already frantic world media, who were struck as much as the Syrians by the attack on Ain al-Sahib.

Nevertheless, and despite the seemingly unequivocal aggressiveness of the Israeli attack, considering it more or less a declaration of war, the entire episode is swarmed by indecision. Is Israel pushing to widen the frontiers of its war? Is this Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's way of avoiding the accountability of his failed war on the Palestinians? Is the bombing an Israeli message or an American one? What does Israel hope to achieve by unleashing another quagmire at a time that the US is yet to deal with her own?

However, the rationale behind Israel's rash decision to end the three-decade long ceasefire at the Syrian-Israeli front, despite the continued hostility ensuing from the Israeli occupation of parts of Lebanon, Syria's Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories, is not the only mystery. The attack on Ain al-Sahib, near Damascus, laid bare another epochal policy, that of the United States.

Bush, who ordered his lonely ranger in the United Nations, John Negroponte, to avert the UN members from condemning the Israeli act, reacted in a manner that left little doubt that Sharon's bold move must have passed through the Washington route first. Bush's words held no hesitance, but in fact full-fledged backing of a seemingly earth-shattering provocation of war: Israel "must not feel constrained" in defending itself, Bush said. On October 06, the US President telephoned Sharon, reported the Associated Press, and "made it very clear to the Prime Minister, like I consistently have done, that Israel's got a right to defend itself and that Israel must not feel constrained in defending the homeland."

For Bush, like many of the so-called hawks in his administration, Arabs and Muslims are all the same, geographically, culturally, religiously and politically. Bombing Syria, therefore, might not seem a far-off pitch in retaliation to a suicide bombing that was carried out by a young Palestinian female lawyer inside Israel on the preceding day. But in a world where many countries, including Syria and excluding Israel and the United States, do in fact still allude to international law while confronting such blatant violations of sovereignty, the "bring it on" mind-set of Bush, Sharon and their followers is by all means repugnant.

No other country at the United Nations, aside from the US, considered the attack on Syria a legitimate Israeli right to "defend its citizens" as Bush later advised, nor did anyone accept the Israeli argument that the bombing of Syria was a "deterrent" move. Even the Haifa bombing, "cannot lead us to overlook or minimize the extreme gravity of the attack perpetrated against Syria," said Spanish Ambassador to the UN, Inocencio Arias, a statement that was followed by that of the British Ambassador Emyr Parry. The Israeli attack, Parry said, represented an escalation of the conflict and undermines the peace process.

But Bush's repeated defense of the Israeli bullying act – akin to his 'self-defense' argument following Israeli army's bloody attacks on Palestinian towns – was only the tip of the iceberg, an introduction of what shall be remembered as the formal inclusion of Israel, in a more practical and critical sense in the "war on terror", an alliance that Israel strived to achieve, and despite its empathy, the US continued to defer. Not any more. One day following the Israeli bombing, the US House International Relations Committee voted in favor of diplomatic and economic sanctions on Syria. Although the bill has been ready to be embraced by the brazen congressmen for a while, it passed this time after assurances that the Bush administration no longer maintains its objection to the piece of legislation. Israel received the news happily, as the predetermined transaction is now complete.

This was not all too accidental. By choosing such a time, when Israel's violent harassment of Syria is condemned internationally, to encroach on Syria with a similar fashion to the decade ago encroachment on Iraq, using the sanctions as a preliminary weapon, the Bush administration has delivered a startling blow to the Arab world and even to the rest of the world. The sanctions on Syria are less likely to lead to mass hunger and death like the unfortunate fate of Iraqis, at least not for now. It remains a first step however, of what could reasonably culminate into a war, unless a total Syrian submission to Israel is realized first.

The US full backing of Israel and the passing of the anti-Syria legislation in the House, thereafter, were a formal marriage between two sinister arguments; now, Israel's war to suppress the Palestinian resistance is correlated, if not identical, to the US war to suppress just about everyone else. "The decisions he (Sharon) makes to defend his people are valid. We would be doing the same thing," said President Bush. Suddenly, Ain al-Sahib in Syria and Tora Bora in Afghanistan, as far as Bush is concerned, are two legitimate targets in an ever-stretching battlefield against what many neo-conservatives see as a hostile, undemocratic, inherently evil, uncivilized Muslim world.

In a testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, on July 31, 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told an attentive, affable audience: The war on terrorism "is a global campaign against a global adversary." This "global campaign" will not end, "until terrorist networks have been rooted out, wherever they exist." Another war and a momentous propaganda campaign later, with the help of the pro-Israeli, anti-Arab and Muslim cohort in the administration, Israel has finally managed to use the same logic. "Israel will not be deterred from protecting its citizens and will strike its enemies in every place and in every way," exclaimed Sharon on October 07, just over a year after Rumsfeld articulated his 'total war' logic yet once again. Bush described the Israeli decision, practically aimed at regionalizing the conflict, as an "essential campaign."

If this should answer at least one of the many questions being asked these days, it should leave no doubt that Israel struck Syria, not only with the routine American "green light", but with a mutual, timely and well-calculated decision, all with the aim of – aside from diverting attention from the preposterous policies that both lead in Iraq and the Occupied Territories – subduing another Arab nation that refuses to be part of the Israeli-American hegemonic project in the region.

And, for obvious reasons, the calamity created by the inexcusable war on Iraq is doomed to be repeated if another major onslaught on Syria takes place, this time with even more adverse consequences, considering the conspicuous Israeli role in the foreseen adversity. True, Arab regimes are likely to hide behind their futile, closed-door "emergency summits" and empty rhetoric, and Europeans are likely to oppose at first, ease the opposition later and then demand their share when sharing the spoils draws near. But in the end, it's the spirit of the resistance, which is only possessed by the Arab masses that shall turn the "cakewalk" wars, as was envisioned by the neoconservatives prior to the war on Iraq, into ruthless battlegrounds, where invaders never win even after "major combat" is declared officially over.


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  • Ramzy Baroud is editor-in-chief of the Palestine Chronicle. His book The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle is now out in paperback.

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