Bush, Sharon and Syria

Periodically tensions rises between Israel and Syria. Bush has enough problems in Iraq and looks worryingly on developments between the two countries, but Sharon may have other ideas. Yossi Schwartz looks at where this situation may lead.

I have just heard over the radio that U.S. President George W. Bush is to impose economic sanctions on Syria. This piece of information should be viewed in the context of another event - last Wednesday, Hezbollah fired anti-aircraft guns at Israeli aircraft that had entered the air space of Lebanon and attacked Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. Last Friday, further skirmishes that involved mortar, rocket, artillery and helicopter gunfire took place on the border of Lebanon with Israel.

Staff Sergeant Denis Laminov, 21, from Bat Yam, was killed and 13 others were injured, two of them seriously, by booby-traps that were set off against a reconnaissance force near Har Dov in Lebanese territory.

Exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah over the past year have a well-versed dynamic: Israel carries out reconnaissance flights in Lebanese airspace; Hezbollah views this, and rightly so, as a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and responds by firing at the aircraft, to which Israel then responds.

However, this time two lawmakers made revealing statements in regards to this matter. Yuval Steinitz, a rightwing lawmaker who heads the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that Lebanon bears responsibility: “I would aim the sights at the Lebanese government,” Steinitz said.

Even more revealing was Efraim Sneh of the opposition Labor Party who said on radio: “Syria, and not Lebanon, is the one who gives Hezbollah permission to carry out these actions. Syria needs to be reminded of the results of these actions - similar to how we’ve reminded them in the past.”

Last October, Israeli jets struck a suspected base of Islamic Jihad in Syria after the group carried out a suicide bombing in Israel. At that time we wrote (see the article: After 19 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Israel: Stop the bloodshed! End the Occupation! Hands off Syria!):

“The Israeli government used a bloody terrorist attack carried out on Saturday in the city of Haifa, as an excuse to hit Syria with an air strike. In this latest terrorist attack, 19 people were killed and 45 wounded when a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in a restaurant in the northern city of Haifa on Saturday. A number of children were among the dead. Israeli Radio reported that the dead included three children, a baby girl, three members of the same family and four Arabs.

“The Israeli press reported that Israeli Air Force warplanes attacked a training camp which they said was being used by a number of Islamic and militant resistance factions on the Syrian-Lebanon border.

“A senior commander for the Stalinist Damascus-based “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command” told the Associated Press in Damascus that the camp was one of their deserted bases, not an Islamic Jihad camp. A civilian guard was injured in the attack, the commander said.

“However, the truth is that Syria closed the offices of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad after the US invasion of Iraq out of fear it could be the next country to be targeted by the United States.

“Thus, considering the measures taken by Syria against Hamas and Jihad, it is reasonable to ask why Israel attacked Syria in a move that clearly poses the danger of a new war in the Middle East? It is clear that the Road map has been torn to pieces by the explosive events which have erupted in the Middle East with severe ferocity. Even the US imperialists are now becoming aware of the situation that has been created, and are terrified of the consequences of their own adventure in Iraq and the effects it could have on the surrounding shaky Arab regimes.

“The crisis is so deep that it is clear for many that the imperialist machinations, from Oslo to the Road Map cannot solve the underlying cause of this conflict - the historical crisis of a decaying system.

“Syria has been for a long time on the list of countries the US condemn as terrorists, by which the rulers of the US mean countries that do not toe the line. It is true that the US at the moment has its hands tied with its war against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. For this reason it would prefer not to open a third front. The rulers of Israel however have different concerns, and they may find some support for their adventure amongst the most reactionary wing of the American capitalists.”

The US is sinking deep in Iraq. It will not open a new front against Syria. It could be a different story with Israel. After all, Israel has a long tradition of making wars in time of crisis. This was certainly the case in 1967. However Sharon, who is known as a master of tactics but a very poor strategist, may find that if he attacks Syria this time, with conditions in the Middle East these days such that the masses are beginning to be inspired by the struggle of the Iraqi people against the imperialist occupation, such a war against Syria may end very differently than the war of 1967.