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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2004/ 12 Tishrei 5765

Richard Z. Chesnoff

Richard Z. Chesnoff
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Big mistake to get cozy with Syrians |
It's almost 20 years since the late Syrian dictator Hafez Assad sent his army to occupy neighboring Lebanon. Recently, the UN Security Council demanded that his son and successor, Bashar Assad, pull out.

This week, Assad Jr. proudly announced he is ordering his troops to withdraw from Beirut. Now you see 'em, now you don't! Except if you look carefully, you still see 'em.

All Assad has done is transfer 3,000 troops eastward. They're still in Lebanon, as are at least 15,000 other Syrian soldiers - not to mention several hundred Syrian intelligence toughs who specialize in making midnight visits to Lebanese officials with offers they can't refuse.

All this might seem like the usual Mideast mayhem, except that Washington is suddenly talking about doing business with the Syrians, a troublesome prospect. According to reports, the U.S. is discussing ways to stop terrorists, weapons and money from crossing from Syria into Iraq. The talks could lead to joint U.S.-Syrian patrols along the Iraq border.

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Tightening the border makes sense. But is the administration serious about cooperating with one of the most dangerous dictatorships in the Mideast - the country that served as Saddam Hussein's primary fence for illegal oil shipments and his major front for illegal arms deals? This is the same Syria that hosts at least eight major international terrorist groups and that was recently placed on a U.S. sanctions list for just those reasons.

Have we forgotten that some of Saddam's henchmen made it to safety in Syria during the war, no doubt with valises full of money? And while no one has proven it, there are continuing reports that some of those missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were transferred into Syria just before the war began.

Which brings me to a major reason why we should not be doing deals with Damascus: The Syrians have had WMD programs for years. According to a recent report in the respected German newspaper Die Welt, Syria actually has been testing chemical weapons on black civilians in the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. According to Die Welt, Syria followed up a June military exercise with Sudan by testing chemical weapons on civilians, killing dozens.

This is not from "The X-Files." We know what the Syrians are capable of doing. Pressure them, but stay clear of cooperating with them.

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JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )

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