Middle East

Middle East

The Road to Damascus?

A U.S. soldier under fire by the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad, April 12, 2003
A U.S. Marine in Baghdad, April 12, 2003 (Photo: Christophe Simon/AFP).

Frankfurt Frankfurter Rundschau (liberal), April 14: The case of Syria is complicated. As a threat to the United States, President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria is even less credible than...Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Damascus is considered an active sponsor of terrorism, but these accusations refer to activities against Israel. In the hunt for Islamic Al-Qaeda terrorists, secular Syria—as even Washington recognizes—cooperated more consistently with the United States than many other countries....The Bush administration may keep all options open…but the current problems with chaos and anarchy in Iraq will cool down whatever fantasies the Bush administration may have of marching on Syria or even Iran..…The Iraq war was not as successful as the United States pretends it was.
—Dietmar Ostermann

London The Daily Telegraph (conservative), April 15: Syria has the most fearsome chemical and biological weapons arsenal of any Arab state—well beyond anything that Saddam Hussein ever had. The purpose of the Iraq war was not simply to destroy Saddam Hussein because he was a nasty piece of work, but to neuter a regime that threatened order with terror[ism] and weapons of mass destruction. Removing the Iraqi threat was a necessary but far from sufficient part of that process. To come close to finishing the job, attention must now switch to Syria and Iran.
—Stephen Pollard

Tel Aviv Ha’aretz (liberal), April 15: Syria has missile batteries and rockets armed with chemical and possibly biological warheads, as well as the capability of manufacturing such payloads. The Syrians say these weapons are meant as a deterrence to balance the nuclear power they attribute to Israel. As opposed to Iraq in its war against Iran, and even the Egyptians in their war 40 years ago in Yemen, Syria has never used chemical weapons. The Syrian provocation is also to be seen in its ties to organizations hostile to Israel—Palestinian (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front-General Command) and Lebanese (Hezbollah). The global U.S. campaign against terror[ism] is also aimed at these groups and the countries that provide them shelter. If the United States succeeds in forcing Iran and Syria to cease their support for these organizations that are trying to harm Israel inside its borders, in the territories, and overseas, it would be another substantial contribution—following the removal of Iraq from the circle of hostile countries—to Israel’s security.

Tel Aviv Ma’ariv (centrist), April 13: No, the Americans do not intend to invade Syria, but they are definitely capable of hurting it badly enough to make it bleed, something the Syrian regime won’t be able to sustain. Under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be altogether improbable to imagine a U.S. Army crack team landing in Al-Biqa, Lebanon, to pluck out Imad Mughniyah [the alleged head of the security apparatus for Hezbollah], for instance. Or, alternately, a squadron of heavy fighter planes erasing a block in a Damascus street where former senior Iraqi officials had been spotted. Bashar al-Assad’s father had a good nose for danger. The son lacks the sense of smell altogether. He has not had the benefit of a personal “shaping experience” yet. If he has one, it will be without anesthetics and without notice. It may be his first and last shaping experience.

London Al-Quds al-Arabi (Palestinian expatriate), Apr. 10: Saddam Hussein’s statues will not be the only ones to fall. Other statues in other Arab capitals will follow soon. It has been demonstrated that military and security forces, however brutal, cannot protect a dictatorial regime, especially if its masters and protectors decide to change it. And we know that the British and American administrations have begun considering alternatives and mulling over names for the next regime changes: in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.
—Abdel-Bari Atwan

Beirut Al-Safir (left-wing, pro-Syria) April 14: Yesterday, members of the U.S. administration took turns at launching a massive propaganda campaign against Syria, using much of the vocabulary they used to justify their aggression against Iraq. This was not the first time that the United States has warned Syria, but the list of accusations this time was the biggest and the most violent….Bush’s personal involvement was also noteworthy: He accused Syria of harboring chemical weapons.... Knowing that the U.S. Defense Department is only an Israeli conference room...it would be easy to conclude that Iraq is not the only target.…Consequently, we can only conclude that this is an Israeli war against all the Arabs…with an American title.
—Talal Salman

Beirut An-Nahar (independent), April 11: The Americans do not want a repeat of the American-Syrian experience in Lebanon in 1983, when Syria embraced all opponents of the U.S. policy and worked, in coordination with them, to undermine U.S. activities in Beirut and to attack U.S. forces. The Americans do not want this to be repeated in Iraq. In other words, they do not want Syria to shelter Baath Party elements or supporters of Saddam Hussein’s regime which would allow the launching of hostile campaigns from Syria when the formation of the free Iraq government begins.
—Pierre Atallah

Jerusalem Al-Hayat al-Jadida (pro-Palestinian authority), April 11: Syria is also a target now after Secretary of Evil [Donald] Rumsfeld impudently started to threaten Damascus. He is totally aware of the fact that Damascus can be easily isolated, especially during this lousy time for the Arabs. We agree with Rumsfeld and Sharon that the Palestinians and Syrians should learn from the Iraqi lesson. The lesson we must learn is that abiding by international law is of no use: it is much like slow suicide. It has shown that accepting inspections and eliminating weapons mean surrendering to death.
—Fouad Abu Hejleh

Istanbul Turkiye (Islamist, nationalist), April 15: The United States wants to cause Syria’s own Baath regime to collapse without having to resort to using military force. But if the regime in Damascus resists, the United States will send its forces into the country. It will also work to remove Syria’s pressure on Israel….While all these developments are taking place, when the Middle East is being reshaped, Ankara will need all its skill to keep on top of things and to protect our interests.
—Yilmaz Oztuna

Dubai Al-Bayan (government-owned), April 13: The Arab League and Arab countries are requested to move toward protecting not only Iraq and Syria, but all Arab countries that might find themselves an American target sooner or later.

Riyadh Al-Riyadh (pro-government), April 13: Syria, because of its geographic position in the neighborhood, its resolute political stance, and its hard line in dealing with…Arab national issues, is the most important remaining opponent of Israel. Putting Syria on the “hot-issues list” after the fall of Baghdad makes it an important consideration because the Israeli hawks are still dominating the hard-line faction within the U.S. government....

Jidda Al-Madina (pro-government), April 13: In the beginning, we [Arabs] missed an opportunity to prevent the war from erupting. We failed to convince the United States to give U.N. inspectors more time and we failed to convince Saddam Hussein to leave the country to spare his nation the atrocities of war. The political map of Iraq is being drawn now. Are we going to miss the chance once again? If we value our right to self-determination, Arab nations must reevaluate their past to disclose the reasons behind the current disgraceful situation. The list of targeted Arab countries is clear and has been made public by the United States. Even before the war ended, the U.S. media gave clear signs that Syria is next in line. There is no need to think hard about the reasons behind these threats. U.S. and Israeli hawks have many reasons to head toward Damascus. But the question remains, are we going to stand still and wait for that to happen, only to convene at some summit to exchange accusations and bad-mouth each other? Just wondering….

Doha Al-Raya (pro-government), April 14: Which country will be next? The easy fall of Baghdad made the war on Iraq look like a picnic. That might stimulate President Bush’s appetite to settle the United States’ accounts with “international pockets of resistance.” North Korea is not in focus now. But Iran, as a member of Bush’s “axis of evil,” and Syria, which just joined the club, are the most likely to be next on Bush’s agenda. According to the United States, Syria: is harboring fleeing Iraqi leaders; allowed Arab fighters to cross into Iraq to fight against coalition forces; and, most importantly, is developing chemical weapons. In addition, there is always the old accusation that it supports Hezbollah and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Any of the above could serve as an excuse for the United States to launch military action against Syria. Minutes after the fall of Baghdad, senior American officials sent a message to Syria and Iran urging them to learn from the mistakes of Iraq....Strong states in this region will be broken in order to maintain peace and security for Israel. That is the ultimate goal of Bush’s Christian, right-wing administration.
—Taha Khalifa

Johannesburg The Star (liberal), April 15: Saddam Hussein’s regime has been toppled and now the world is holding its breath to see what will happen next. Is Syria the new target on the United States’ regime-change list? Several European and Middle Eastern countries seem to think so, and are warning of the dangers of escalating U.S.-Syrian tensions….Few analysts seriously believe the U.S. and Britain plan to unleash military force against Damascus; they say Syria is more a political than a military target of the United States. The U.S. goal, experts suggest, is to use the shock created by the swift destruction of Saddam Hussein to make Syria “come off the fence” and become more co-operative in the Middle East.

São Paulo Fôlha de S. Paulo (liberal), April 13: In the past few weeks, Syria has gained prominence among George Bush’s list of “major villains.” Washington is also profoundly unhappy with Saudi Arabia. Who will be next?...The notion of preemptive strike against future threats, not against imminent aggression, is unacceptable. If it were a “right,” as the White House’s ideologues see it, and all nations exercised that right, the world would live in a permanent state of war.

Buenos Aires Clarín (independent), April 14: By saying that the United States believes Syria has weapons of mass destruction, President Bush reinforced the position of those who think that the Syrian government will be the next target of the war against terror. Nevertheless, just as in the case of Iraq, we can expect these weapons not to be the most important argument Bush uses to justify the war. Syria is a crucial piece in the strategic map of the Middle East that Bush wants to redesign and democratize....Both Arab and Western observers agree that the only thing that could stabilize the region after the war on Iraq is an Israeli-Palestinian deal....The United States is reported to have promised Tel Aviv that it “will take decisive action,” which could include military action, to put an end to Syria’s aid to Hezbollah….Facing reelection, Bush can hardly be expected to place real pressure on [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, which could deprive him of the Jewish vote. Pressuring Syria, on the other hand, won’t cost him anything in domestic U.S. politics.
—Ana Baron

Karachi The News (left-wing), April 11: Is [the war] over for the United States? Indications are that the next target is already being lined up....There is an eerie familiarity to the opening salvos in the Syrian game plan....The stage will be set. Quislings will create a "free Syrian army." A new "coalition of the willing" will be put together with Israel as a major partner and war will be unleashed. Another Arab country will be “liberated.”...This U.S. administration is moving at breakneck speed to reshape the world to its liking. It has no care or concern for other people or for the suffering that it leaves in its wake....U.S. troops are in every region of the world and in more than fifty countries. Pax Americana continues to extract a heavy price.
—Shafqat Mahmood

Oslo Aftenposten (conservative), April 14: The war against Iraq also serves as a signal to the other countries in the “axis of evil” that none of them should feel secure if they continue to defy the United States. The warnings to Syria could be a bluff in this game, an attempt to pressure Damascus over to another course. In any case, it is a dangerous game, because the Syrians have never shown themselves to be particularly receptive to pressure.
—A. Christiansen

Moscow Nezavisimaya Gazeta (centrist), April 11: It looks like the U.S. Air Force is about to bomb Syria. U.S. officials are preparing the ground for that. No sooner had Baghdad fallen than Donald Rumsfeld pointed an accusing finger at a country that has offered refuge to members of Saddam Hussein’s regime....A new war would not add much to the United States’ expenditures. The Pentagon and Congress could effectively use troops that are now stationed in vanquished Iraq and at U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf area to attack Syria.
—Yuliya Petrovskaya

Milan Il Giornale (conservative), April 14: The accusations against Syria that Washington leveled yesterday are taking on special significance. For once, the U.S. administration seems to be united. [Secretary of State Colin] Powell, Rumsfeld, and [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz paved the way for Bush, who accused Damascus again of hiding chemical and biological weapons. Over the next few days we will know whether we are heading for a new military crisis or whether Washington, for the time being, simply wants to frighten young President Al-Assad.
—Marcello Foa

Toronto The Globe and Mail (centrist), Apr. 11: The imminent U.S. victory puts Syria in a tight spot….Damascus apparently thought that, as the standard bearer for Arab militancy, it had to oppose a U.S-led invasion of an Arab nation, even if the result was to remove a regime it despised…. Washington wants more from Damascus, and it now has the leverage to get it….With a weak military, a ramshackle economy and a regime well past its stale date, Syria now finds itself all but surrounded by friends of the United States: Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and (with the U.S.-orchestrated change of regime in Baghdad) Iraq.
—Marcus Gee

London The Independent (liberal), Apr. 14: With looting and violence continuing, barely restrained, over the weekend, President Bush and his senior officials peppered Syria with warnings about its behavior—warnings all too reminiscent of the ones that preceded the war on Iraq. Having eliminated Iraq as a threat, the Bush administration gives the impression that it is casting around for more enemies. The risks of such public accusations were all too apparent in the failed international diplomacy that gave way to the war on Iraq….The prime minister [Tony Blair], for all his commitment to disarming Iraq and improving life for Iraqis, has so far declined to sign up to any wider objective, beyond improving the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. By sending his Foreign Office minister, Mike O’Brien, to Damascus and Tehran this week, Blair is not only keeping channels open with these countries. He is also publicly distancing himself from Washington’s judgment that they are “rogue states.” Keeping communications open should remain Britain’s priority.

Beijing Renmin Wang/People Net (Communist Party, online), April 12: Hawks in Washington proclaim that the Iraq war shows that whether “authorized” by the international community or not, as the world’s sole superpower, the United States should launch preemptive strikes on potential threats, and afterwards spread American-style democracy and free-market economics throughout the globe, especially the Middle East. Although postwar Iraq faces many thorny problems that have not yet been resolved, the U.S. hawks have started to talk about “turning over a new page in the Middle East.” They predict that vast changes will occur in the coming period in many countries, including Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt….Even certain “relatively moderate” figures in the United States hold the view that the White House today has changed from being the “little international policeman” of the Clinton era into a “powerful enforcer,” and that with the active assistance of a “coalition of the willing,” it has unilaterally established a new international political and economic order it finds satisfactory.
—Gao Yijun

Islamabad Khabrain (Urdu-language), April 11: The United States’ designs can be gauged by the fact that the very day it occupied Baghdad, it warned Syria, Iran, and North Korea to learn a lesson from Iraq and destroy their weapons of mass destruction….Can this be anything less than an open threat? In the eyes of the United States, learning a lesson may mean that these countries should destroy their own weapons. In our opinion, and in the opinion of the entire Muslim Ummah [nation], the lesson is that Syria and Iran should further gird themselves and the rest of the Islamic world should prepare to support them. Otherwise, even if we destroy our weapons, we will gain nothing will except Saddam Hussein-like humiliation.

New Delhi Hindustan Times (centrist), April 14: With Saddam Hussein fallen, the job is only half done. Both Washington and London have been repeatedly accusing Syria since the Iraq war began—first of supplying arms to Iraqi soldiers, then, as Saddam Hussein’s regime fell, of harboring runaway Iraqi leaders and facilitating their passage to other countries. On Sunday [March 13], President Bush accused Syria of possessing chemical weapons, and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said there are “questions the Syrians must answer.” On Monday, a top Israeli official, close to Ariel Shaon, asked Syria not to “play with fire.”...These developments look exceedingly like the build-up to a war.
—Saif Shahin

Islamabad Al-Akhbar (Urdu-language), April 10: Only time will tell if the hatred in the hearts of Iraqis and Arabs for the aggressors will result in the end of a phase in the war and beginning of the next phase. Time will make it clear if the next target of U.S. imperialism is going to be Syria, Iran, or, God forbid, Pakistan. If Syria is a hindrance in the establishment of greater Iraq, the United States will subjugate it. If Iran poses a problem, then that will also be solved. And if Pakistan creates problems, then it will be disarmed. This is the New World Order. The long-standing Israeli dream is coming true.
—Khawaja Sharif Ahmad

Auckland The New Zealand Herald (conservative), April 16: [This] nervousness [over Washington’s threats against Syria] was understandable, for Syria seems to be all too clearly in the Americans’ sights….But the sense of threat and the menacing tone of the references to “regime-change” are far too carefully orchestrated to be put down to pique at Syria’s vociferous and unrelenting denunciation of the Iraq invasion or concerns about escaping Iraqi bigwigs. This is certainly what the Syrians believe. From the beginning, they have seen the U.S. goal as a redrawing of the map of the Middle East. Israel’s enemies—notably Iraq, Syria, and Iran, in that order—would be brought to heel or knocked off one by one, if not by military action then by the threat of it. There is some justification for this fear, if not for the Zionist conspiracy theories in which Syria and much of the rest of the Middle East believe. Regime change not only in Iraq but in neighboring countries is a central plank of the security policy developed by Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Vice-President Dick Cheney, security adviser Richard Perle, and Richard Garner, America’s proposed governor of Iraq, 10 years ago.
—Adrian Hamilton

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