Don't Be Fooled By Syria's Sheep's Clothing

By The Wall Street Journal | by Rachel Ehrenfeld and Yossef Bodansky
Friday, January 14th, 1994 @ 9:58PM

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On Jan. 10, in Geneva, Clinton Administration National Security Adviser Anthony Lake denied vehemently suggestions that the United States will proceed with Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s reported plan to remove Syria from the official State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Let’s hope that Mr. Lake is correct. When Mr. Clinton sets out to meet with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Geneva on Sunday, he’d do well to bear a few things in mind about the country he’s courting in his bid for a Mideast peace.

Syria’s negligible participation in the anti-Iraq coalition during the Gulf War seems to have exempted the country from criticism for continuing hostility to its neighbors. The same consideration prompts the U.S. to dismiss evidence of Syrian participation in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Syria has long been cited as a supporter of the Marxist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) operating against the government in Turkey. In March 1991, an article in the Turkish newspaper Millyet quoted Abdullah “Apo” Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, who was already based in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley, praising the “Syrian government” for “providing assistance to seventy-three liberation organizations.” Partly as a result of Syrian support, the PKK’s activities within Turkey have increased.

By October 1993, as reported in the Turkish Press Review in November, the Turkish government was compelled to warn Damascus that unless its support for the PKK is withdrawn “Turkey will . . . take military action against PKK concentrations in Syria.” Though Syria has since said it no longer supports the PKK, Turkey apparently disagrees. Turkish military forces reportedly raided some PKK bases across the border on Syrian territory this weekend.

That President Assad works in cooperation with Iran is not news, but some recent manifestations of this sinister partnership are worth noting. In early December, Iranian Vice President Hassan Ibrahim Habibi, and Commander of the Revolutionary Guard Muhsin Reza’i, inspected Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, visited with Ahmad Jibril, a well-known terrorist, and met with Mr. Assad in Damascus. As widely reported in the Arab dailies, Al-Hayat, Al-Watan-al-Arabi and Al-Shi’a, the Syrian president told the Iranians that his country’s finanical needs make it necessary for Syria to keep a low profile until after he meets with President Clinton. However, he urged the Iranians to continue their quiet consolidation of Palestinian and Islamic organizations so that at the right time both Iran and Syria “will play an effective role in guaranteeing the failure of {peace} agreements with Israel.” In furthering this goal, the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley remains the base for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah attacks on Israel.

Mr. Assad’s ties with Tehran are complex, but one thing is certainly clear: Iran’s continued friendship is important to Syria. Since the late Iranian Imam, Musa Sadr, declared in April 1973 that the Alawites, Mr. Assad’s minority Islamic sect, are part of Shiite Islam, the sect dominant in Iran, Mr. Assad’s regime has been effectively insulated against the threat of Islamist subversion. This insurance, however, could be canceled should Mr. Assad fail to satisfy Iranian interests in the region.

Mr. Assad’s assurance to the West that if only Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights he would be prepared to negotiate, should be seen in its proper light. In a Dec. 27 speech, Mr. Assad declared that as the undisputed leader of the Arab world, Syria “never bargains away any rights or territory, or strikes a separate deal. For Syria, there is no choosing between the Golan Heights and South Lebanon or any occupied Arab territory for that matter.” Accepting the American-Israeli approach of land for peace, according to Mr. Assad, will not bring real peace to the region. “Any peace,” according to Mr. Assad, “which fails to satisfy Arab ambitions {including the return of all Palestinians to their pre-1948 homes}, is worthless.” Despite tortured American rationalizations, explanations and excuses, Syria is simply not a fit partner for bringing about Mideast peace. Its power is directed exclusively toward war.

Just as the U.S. seems determined to play down evidence that Syria is backing and participating in international terrorism, it is also ignoring the drug trafficking going on in Syria. Off the record, U.S. government sources worry that Syria and the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley are replacing the former Yugoslavia as the heroin gateway to the West. American drug enforcement officials say that cocaine and heroin paste are shipped through Damascus airport to the Bekaa Valley, under Syrian control, where refineries have cropped up like poppies. They estimate that at least four tons of heroin and large quantities of cocaine found their way last year from these refineries to Europe, adding billions of dollars of revenues to support terrorism.

When the unpleasant facts militate so strongly against a policy, that policy should be seriously questioned. Syria works against Mideast peace and against historically-declared U.S. interests. Indeed, Mr. Assad must continue to do so in order to assure his own survival.

Given Mr. Assad’s continued statements against any reasonable Mideast peace and his past record, it becomes clear that this is no partner for the U.S. to be courting in Geneva. Mr. Assad is no dove, but he undoubtedly is anticipating keenly his forthcoming meeting with what for all the world looks like an American pigeon.

Ms. Ehrenfeld is the author of “Evil Money: Encounters Along the Money Trail” and “Narcoterrorism.” Mr. Bodansky is the author of “Terror” and “Target America.”

Categories: U.S. Policy

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