nthposition online magazine

The march on Damascus

by Ramzy Baroud

[ politics | opinion - october 03 ]

The Israeli bombing inside Syria on 5 October has rendered irrelevant the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between the two countries. The the world media were as surprised by bombing of the alleged "militant training camp" as the Syrians were.

Nevertheless, and despite the aggression of the Israeli attack, which could have been seen more or less as a declaration of war, the rationale is cloudy. Is Israel widening the frontiers of its war? Is this Israeli prime pinister Ariel Sharon's way of avoiding accountability for his failed war on the Palestinians? Is the bombing an Israeli message or an American one? What does Israel hope to achieve by creating a new quagmire when the US has yet to deal with her exiting one?

Israel's decision to end the three-decade long Syrian-Israeli ceasefire (which has held despite the continued hostility to the Israeli occupation of parts of Lebanon, Syria's Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories), laid bare another policy: that of the United States.

Bush, who ordered his lonely ranger in the United Nations, John Negroponte, to prevent its members from condemning the Israeli act, reacted in a manner that left little doubt that Sharon's move must have been passed by Washington. Bush's words held no hesitation, but instead gave full backing: Israel "must not feel constrained" in defending itself, he said. On 6 October, 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 hawks in his administration, all Arabs and Muslims are the same, geographically, culturally, religiously and politically. Bombing Syria, therefore, might not seem an inappropriate retaliation to a suicide bombing carried out by a young Palestinian female lawyer inside Israel on the preceding day. But in a world where many countries - including Syria but excluding Israel and the United States - still refer to international law while confronting such blatant violations of sovereignty, the "bring it on" mind-set of Bush, Sharon and their followers is repugnant.

No country at the United Nations, other than the US, considered that Israel had a legitimate right to attack Syria to "defend its citizens" or that the bombing of Syria was a "deterrent". Even the Haifa bombing, said the Spanish ambassador to the UN, Inocencio Arias, "cannot lead us to overlook or minimize the extreme gravity of the attack perpetrated against Syria," a statement which was followed by that of the British Ambassador, Emyr Parry. The Israeli attack, Parry said, represented an escalation of the conflict and undermined the peace process.

But Bush's repeated defence of Israeli bullying - like his "self-defense" argument following the Israeli army's attacks on Palestinian towns - was only the tip of the iceberg. Israel has striven to be formally included as a partner in the "war on terror"; the US hesitated. Not any more. One day after the Israeli bombing, the US House International Relations Committee voted in favor of diplomatic and economic sanctions on Syria. The bill had been ready for some time, and passed this time after assurances that the Bush administration no longer objected to the legislation. Israel received the news happily.

This was not too accidental. By choosing this time, when Israel's harassment of Syria is being condemned internationally, to encroach on Syria, much as they did in Iraq a decade ago, and by using the sanctions as a preliminary weapon, the Bush administration has delivered a blow to the Arab world and even to the rest of the world. Sanctions on Syria are less likely to lead to mass hunger and death than they did in Iraq, at least for now. It remains a first step, however, of what could culminate in a war, unless Syrian submits to Israel.

The US's backing of Israel and the passing of the anti-Syria legislation in the House were a formal marriage between two arguments: Israel's war to suppress the Palestinian resistance is now correlated, if not identical, to the US war to suppress just about everyone else. "The decisions [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, uncivilised Muslim world.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 31 July, 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told an attentive, affable audience that the war on terrorism was "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 propaganda campaign later (and with the help of the pro-Israeli, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim cohort in the administration), Israel is using 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 7 October, just over a year after Rumsfeld articulated his "total war" logic. Bush described the Israeli decision, aimed at regionalising the conflict, as an "essential campaign."

Israel struck Syria with an American "green light". It was a mutual, timely and well-calculated decision, which - in addition to diverting attention from their policies in Iraq and the Occupied Territories - aimed to subdue another Arab nation which refuses to be part of the Israeli-American hegemonic project in the region.

The calamity created by the war on Iraq is doomed to be repeated if another major onslaught on Syria takes place, but with even worse consequences. True, Arab regimes will hide behind their futile, closed-door "emergency summits" and empty rhetoric, and Europeans will oppose at first, then ease their opposition and later demand their share of the spoils. But in the end, the resistance of the Arab masses will turn what the neoconservatives, before the war on Iraq, called "cakewalk" wars into battlegrounds, where invaders can never win even after the "major combat" is officially declared over.