Jewish World Review May 12, 2003/ 10 Iyar, 5763
Richard Z. Chesnoff
The Syrian double cross
Immediately after Secretary of State Powell's recent visit to Damascus, word came down that weeks of U.S. warnings had had their desired effect. Syrian President Bashar Assad had assured Powell that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's fugitive cohorts would no longer be allowed to seek refuge in Syria. There were also assurances that Syria would block the flow of cash from Iraq into Syria, as well as the flow of fanatic fighters from Syria into Iraq.
What's more, in supposed support of U.S. efforts to broker peace between Arabs and Israelis, Assad pledged that he would cut aid to anti-Israel organizations, such as Hezbollah, and actually close the Damascus offices of such Palestinian terrorist gangs as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Guess what? Nobody has been closed down, and Hezbollah mocks the very idea that Syria would lower the boom on its Lebanon-based protégés. Next to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Islamists, the Syrian police state remains the biggest fly in the Arab-Israeli peace ointment.
Listen to what Assad had to say in a recent interview with the editors of Al Safir, a Lebanese daily: "It is inconceivable that Israel will become a legitimate state even if the peace process is implemented. ... As long as Israel exists, the threat [to Syria] exists."
Does this sound like someone interested in peace, let alone in battling terrorism?
In fact, the Syrians have stepped up their support for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It was bad enough last year when, as I wrote then, Syria allowed Al Qaeda fugitives to slip into Lebanon via Damascus. Now, according to Cofer Black, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, Damascus has begun allowing Al Qaeda operatives not only to enter Syria, but to stay there and use it as a base of international operations.
"We clearly don't have the full support of the Syrian government on the Al Qaeda problem," says Black. "They have allowed Al Qaeda personnel to come in and virtually settle in Syria with its knowledge and support."
According to a just-published report by Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute, Syria's support for Hezbollah has increased dangerously. Levitt points out that while Bashar Assad's late father, Hafez Assad, exercised great caution in dealing with Hezbollah, "Bashar is reported to have integrated elements of Hezbollah's paramilitary units into the Syrian Army in Lebanon and has in fact supplied the group with heavy arms of its own (in addition to Iranian arms transshipped via Damascus), including a new 220-mm. rocket."
There is also no sign that the Syrians are returning any of the Iraqi national funds that were smuggled into their country by Iraqi officials before, during and after the liberation of Iraq. Nor are the Syrians displaying any signs of willingness to part with their share of Saddam's ill-gotten loot.
As I've reported before, Syria and the Assad clique profited for years from billions of dollars worth of illegal oil shipments and arms dealing on behalf of Iraq. The pipeline from the Kirkuk oil fields to Syria's Mediterranean port of Baniyas illegally pumped 150,000 to 200,000 barrels of Iraqi oil a day. Syria sold the oil for Iraq and skimmed a commission from Saddam - one thief stealing from another. That's not counting the commissions made by Assad relatives and cronies who fronted for Iraqi arms purchases.
Maybe we ought to start looking in Syria for Iraq's missing weapons of mass
destruction - not to mention Saddam himself.
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