Syria Is in Americas Gunsights
By Robert Fisk
15 April 2003
So now Syria is in Americas
gunsights. First its Iraq, Israels most powerful enemy,
possessor of weapons of mass destruction none of which have been
found. Now its Syria, Israels second most powerful enemy,
possessor of weapons of mass destruction, or so President George Bush
Junior tells us.
No word of that possessor
of real weapons of mass destruction, Israel the number of its
nuclear warheads in the Negev are now accurately listed whose
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has long been complaining that Damascus
is the center of world terror.
But Syria is a target all
First came the US claim that
Damascus was sending gas masks to the Iraqi Army. The Syrians denied
it but what if its true? Why shouldnt an Arab neighbor
offer Iraqi soldiers protective clothing during an American invasion
which has no international legitimacy. Then Syria was accused of sending
or allowing Arab volunteers to cross into
Iraq to fight the Americans.
This is much harder for the
Syrians to deny. Ive met a few of them here in Baghdad, most anxious
to return to their homes in Homs and Damascus, others from Algeria
and Morocco telling me that they will be safe if they can reach
the Syrian border because there will be no trouble from there.
But here, too, theres
a whiff of hypocrisy. Whenever Israel goes to war, there are always
hundreds of volunteers from the United States rushing to
Tel Aviv to join the Israel Defense Force, and America never complains.
But then comes the nastiest
accusation: That members of the Iraqi regime have fled to Syria for
Given Syrias increasingly
warmer relations with Saddams Iraq in recent years, and the joint
nature of their Baathist past the Syrian Christian Michel Aflaq
was a founder of the Baath in the days when it was a creature of both
nations its difficult to believe that the Tariq Azizes
and Taha Yassin Ramadans could not seek refuge in Syria.
Needless to say, the capture
of Saddams half-brother near the Syrian border has provoked the
usual rash of stories. Tariq Aziz is living in Lebanon with the ladies
of Saddams family.
Untrue. The Arabic television
satellite channel interviewed the ex-Iraqi Information Minister Mohamed
Al-Sahaf in Damascus. Totally untrue. And also embarrassing for the
For just as they failed to
capture the most brutal of the Bosnian Serb murderers, Messers Karadjic
and Mladic, so they failed to find Osama Bin Laden or even Mulla
Omar and, given the failure of American intelligence in Baghdad,
it wouldnt be that surprising if the whole of the Iraqi Cabinet
managed to pass safely through an American checkpoint in an orange panteknikon.
But its Syria that
is being lined up for attack next, not the Saddam Cabinet.
And the signs were clear
Take the article in the New
York Times by Larry Collins joint author with Dominique Lapierre
of O Jerusalem which last month announced that the
Syrian-supported Hezballah resistance in Lebanon had 10,000 new missiles
that could fly to Tel Aviv and leave in their wake devastation
more terrible than anything Israel has ever known. The missiles
are a myth I travel the roads of southern Lebanon every two weeks
and there are no such missiles, as the UN force there will confirm
but this doesnt matter.
Collins even stated that
the thinkers (anonymous) at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv
believed that it was Syria, not Iraq, that possessed the most
sophisticated chemical and biological weaponry in the Middle East.
Quite so. And then it will be Libya who has the most sophisticated C-B
Or Saudi Arabia.
Or anyone else Israel wants
But this still leaves the
question: Could Saddam and his sons and Tariq Aziz and Ramadan and the
rest have passed through Syria? Not impossible. But the idea that they
would be allowed to stay there seems incredible. If President Bashar
Assad really allowed Saddam to be a guest, it would be akin to inviting
a Cruise missile to his presidential palace. After all, it was only
a few months ago under pressure from Turkey that Syria
deported the Kurdish leftist leader Abdullah Ocalan to Russia, whence
he arrived in Africa and was handed over in Kenya to the Turks. But
Syria just might have provided a transit station for the Baath Party
officials from Iraq.
To where? My own favorite
is Belarus because its capital, Minsk, is awash in facilities,
corruption and damp apartments (the first two of which would appeal
to most Iraqi Baathists). Indeed, I promoted this idea to collagues
with enthusiasm before Americas invasion of Iraq. But then, just
seven weeks ago, I read a paragraph in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir
which reported that President Lukashenko, an old friend of ex-Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic, had invited Saddams son, Uday, to
a chess championship in Minsk.
And ever since, I have been
imagining the whole Baathist crew wandering the forests of Belarus
Saddam et fils, Tariq Aziz, Ramadan, the Iraqi defense minister,
even Sahaf, wandering the forests of Belarus as state guests.
Vladimir Putin, of course,
would be asked to help to retrieve them and hand them over to Washington.
And he would have a price, no doubt, a price involving oil concessions
and Russias already signed oil contracts in Baghdad.