The attack on Syria will not help bring peace to Israel

06 October 2003

No one doubts that Syria is both part of the problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that it must be part of the solution. But now we have moved from the irrelevance of the American initiative to impose sanctions on Syria to the actively counter-productive approach of a vengeful Israel.

The horror of yet another suicide bombing has been used as a pretext for an act of aggression violating the territory of a neighbour. The Israeli air force strike on an alleged terrorist training base near Damascus is not quite a moral non sequitur, but the connection with Saturday's suicide attack is tenuous.

One analogy in the Israeli mind is, no doubt, the invasion of Afghanistan when it continued to protect the terrorist organisation responsible for 11 September. But that was an operation approved by the international community; this is a unilateral strike.

Under international law, the UN Security Council should have no choice but to condemn the Israeli action; of course it will not because of the American veto. That is an outcome that will only reinforce the charge of double standards levelled against the West by so many in Arab countries.

Once again, the pressure on Arab leaders to root out the Islamic perversions that encourage terrorism will be reduced. If it is true that Bashir Assad, the president of Syria, is in an internal struggle with extremist elements, his hand has been weakened. The attack on Ein Saheb is bound to be seen as a national humiliation and is likely to strengthen anti-Israeli feeling.

It is right that pressure be brought to bear on Mr Assad, as on the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, to take action against the terrorists they are harbouring. And it is true that the proposed US response of economic sanctions against Syria (principal non-oil exports: cotton and live sheep and goats) is likely to be ineffective.

But the Israelis must understand that suicide terrorism can never be prevented by military force. It can only be eliminated by a political settlement, however distant that may seem.

For that reason, a gesture that may make Israelis feel safer in the short term only makes their long-term security all the more difficult to defend.