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Jewish World Review June 14, 2000 / 11 Sivan, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Tell the truth about tyrants -- WHAT IS IT ABOUT DEATH that forces us to treat even the most heinous tyrants as if we owed them respect? The sudden demise of Syrian president Hafez al-Assad this week is a perfect case in point. President Clinton offered the feeble, "We had our differences, but I always respected him."

Network news shows spoke of the Syrian people "mourning" the passing of their "leader." Oh, really? Now, who might these Syrians be? Certainly not the thousands of Syrians imprisoned and tortured in windowless, underground cells for their opposition to the regime. Nor the families of the 10,000 Syrians massacred in 1982 in the village of Hama. Nor will hundreds of Americans and Europeans whose families perished in the dozens of state-sponsored terrorist acts masterminded and facilitated by Syria over more than two decades.

Assad was a ruthless dictator who controlled his countrymen by crushing dissent. His socialist Baath Party stifled Syria's economy. He dismembered neighboring Lebanon with the help of the Syrian-backed Hezbollah. He made his territory a home away from home for terrorists like the infamous Carlos the Jackal, and a training ground for both Arab and non-Arab terrorist groups, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, the Japanese Red Army, and the violent Turkish Kurdish faction, the PKU, among others.

Hardly a major terrorist act committed over the last two decades does not bear Syrian fingerprints. The terrorists who blew up the American barracks in Lebanon in 1983 passed through two Syrian checkpoints before driving their bomb-laden cars into the sleeping quarters of American soldiers, killing 241. Syria was deeply implicated in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed 270, though the U.S. government has chosen to downplay Syria's role in its effort to woo Assad to the peace table with Israel.

Assad came to power in a military coup soon after Syria's disastrous defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. As Syrian Defense Minister during the war, Assad was humiliated by Israel's capture of the Golan Heights and the virtual destruction of the Syrian Air Force. Any hope of regaining the territory through military victory largely disappeared after Arab forces were once again defeated by Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

For anyone who has ever stood on the Golan peering down into the fertile Israeli farms and villages below, it is a mystery as to why the Israelis should ever want to hand over this strategic territory to a country that, time and again, has shown itself implacably opposed to the very existence of the state of Israel. But President Clinton has been urging Israel to do just that for years now, as part of a "peace process" that he has brokered every step of the way since the first secret talks between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel began in Oslo, Norway, in 1993.

With Assad dead, everyone wonders what will happen to the talks between Syria and Israel that were to lead to another "land for peace" accord between the Jewish state and one of its Arab neighbors. Perhaps Assad's son Bashar, who assumes power this week, will be able to broker a true and lasting peace with Israel, but I would not bet on it. In order for there to be peace in the Middle East, all of the dozens of terrorist groups that Assad helped nurture for 30 years must be committed to abandoning their war against Israel and the West. With Hezbollah victorious in Lebanon, now that Israel's troops have withdrawn, who will stop these fanatics from continuing their blood lust?

Both Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak need a peace agreement to secure their legacies, which, no doubt, contributes to their mild words about Hafez al Assad. But peace cannot come at the expense of truth. Until men of genuine honor and decency assume roles as heads of state in the Middle East, any peace will be tenuous at best. Israel should stick to defending its own interests and territory, not making Bill Clinton or Ehud Barak look good for the history books.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate