Israel's attack is a lethal step towards war in Middle East

Robert Fisk in Beirut

06 October 2003

Israel received the Green Light. It came from what is called the Syria Accountability Act, moving through the United States Congress with the help of Israel's supporters, that will impose sanctions on Damascus for its supposed enthusiasm for "terrorism" and occupation of Lebanon.

Speaker after speaker in the past week has been warning that Syria is the new - or old, or non-existent - threat previously represented by Iraq: that it has weapons of mass destruction, that it has biological warheads, that it received Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction just before we began our illegal invasion of Iraq in March.

The Israeli lie about "thousands" of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon has been uncloaked yet again. In reality, there hasn't been an Iranian militant in Lebanon for 20 years. But who cares? The dictatorial Syrian regime - and dictatorial it most decidedly is - has to be struck after a Jenin woman lawyer, who has probably never visited Damascus in her life, blows herself and 19 innocent Israelis up in Haifa.

And why not? If America can strike Afghanistan for the international crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and if America can invade Iraq, which had absolutely nothing to do with 11 September, why shouldn't Israel strike Syria?

Yes, Syria does support Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But in Iraq is based the Mujahideen Khalq, which bombs Iran, and the Americans have not bombed them. In Jerusalem exists a government that openly threatens the life of Yasser Arafat but no one suggests action should be taken against the Israeli administration.

In Jerusalem lives a prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who was adjudicated to be "personally responsible" by Israel's own Kahane commission of enquiry for the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982. But he is not going on trial for war crimes.

Of course, Syria is going to take the air strikes on the 'training base" of Islamic Jihad to the United Nations. Much good will it do Damascus. When the United States cannot bring itself to support a resolution condemning Israel's threat to murder Arafat, when it will not stop the Israelis building 600 more houses - for Jews and Jews only - on Palestinian land, air raids on Syria simply don't matter.

Perhaps Lebanon will benefit. Perhaps Lebanon can now be spared Israel's retaliation for Palestinian violence - unless, of course, Israel decides to strike a Palestinian "training base" in Lebanon.

No one asks what these "training bases" are. Do Palestinian suicide bombers really need to practice suicide bombing? Does turning a switch need that much training? Surely the death of a brother or a cousin by the Israeli army is all the practice that is needed.

But no. Yesterday, we took another little lethal step along the road to Middle East war, establishing facts on the ground, proving that it's permissible to bomb the territory of Syria in the "war against terror", which President Bush has himself declared now includes Gaza.

And the precedents are there if we need them. Back in 1983, when President Reagan thought he was fighting a "war on terror" in the Middle East, he ordered his air force to bomb the Syrian army in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, losing a pilot and allowing the Syrians to capture his co-pilot, who was only returned after a prolonged and politically embarrassing negotiation by Jesse Jackson. In an era when America is ready to threaten the invasion of Syria and Iran - part of that infamous "axis of evil" - this may seem small beer. But Syria itself has seen what has happened to America's army in Iraq, and is emboldened by its humiliation to avenge the attacks of Israel or America, whatever the cost.

If America cannot control Iraq, why should Syria fear Israel?