Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

21 Adar I 5765 - March 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Syria Under Pressure from All Sides

by M Plaut

Syria has suffered serious setbacks in Lebanon and will probably suffer more in the near future. At the same time, Israel is working to pin the blame for the recent terror bombing in Tel Aviv on Damascus, and the United States has had running complaints against Syria for its attitude and behavior towards its neighbor Iraq and its support of world terror.

Syria has been a presence in Lebanon for more than 20 years. It first moved in during the Lebanese civil war between Moslems and Christians that lasted from about 1975 to about 1990. The so-called Taif accord ended the Lebanese civil war and it also provided that Syria pull back its troops from the Lebanese coast and the mountains to the Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border, and eventually out of Lebanon altogether.

Although the Lebanese have returned to a fairly stable coexistence among themselves, Syria has remained a dominant power in Lebanese politics. In addition to its influence on the Lebanese government, it also has a certain degree of authority over the actions of the terrorist Hizbullah movement that is based in Lebanon.

The recent developments began in October 2004 when the Syrians forced legislative action to allow an extension of President Emile Lahoud's term in office. Lahoud is a Moslem and an ally of Syria. The prime minister is traditionally a Christian. In response to the blatant Syrian intervention, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri resigned. He was assassinated February 14 in a huge car bomb explosion, apparently because of his power and his opposition to a continued Syrian presence in Lebanon. Now it appears that the murder may instead hasten Syria's departure from Lebanon.

The UN, under French and US pressure, has been demanding that Syria leave Lebanon based on UN Security Council Resolution 1559. It demanded that Lebanon hold presidential elections, that Syrian troops pull out of Lebanon and that Syria stop interfering in Lebanese affairs.

Since the assassination thousands of Lebanese have demonstrated peacefully against the Syrian presence in their country. Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karame first asked Syria if he could resign more than a week ago. The Syrians said no, so Karame didn't hand in his resignation.

But on Monday this week Karame resigned anyway, and his move may be only the first in a series of steps Syria will have to take to satisfy tumultuous Lebanese public opinion and to preserve what remains of its stature in Lebanon. Between 25,000 and 60,000 Lebanese walked past Lebanese Army and police forces wearing the symbolic red-and-white national colored scarves in downtown Beirut. Lebanese opposition leaders said their next goal is to force pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud to resign and the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon.

Syria announced last week that it will begin moving its troops eastward, though it has not done anything on the ground. This week Syrian sources in Lebanon were leaking that Syrian President Bashar Assad plans to fire Rustum Ghazal, head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon and the focal point of the anger of the Lebanese.

This crisis will certainly be a test of Assad. It may be that if he suffers a significant loss in Lebanon he will come under severe criticism from the Syrian military.

Syria has also been under intense pressure from the United States since the latter's invasion of Iraq. Syria has long supported terror and is on the US State Department's list of state supporters of terror. Though it joined the American coalition in the Iraq war, the US accused it of allowing Iraqi officials to escape over its border, and some said that Iraqi weapons were also hidden in Syria.

In the years since the end of the hostilities in Iraq there were persistent accusations that Syria was at least allowing Moslem volunteers to infiltrate Iraq across its border to fight the US forces. Syria has also supported Hizbullah, an organization that killed hundreds of American troops in Lebanon, and that is on the official US list of terror organizations.

Israeli officials have been saying for months that Hizbullah is trying to arrange for Palestinian proxies to attack Israelis in order to foil the recent movement toward peace in the area that has been supported by the whole world, and also that Hizbullah has taken up from Saddam Hussein the task of paying thousands of dollars to the families of Palestinian terrorists.

This week the Israeli Foreign Ministry went on a diplomatic offensive against Syria, presenting evidence linking it to Friday's terror attack in Tel Aviv to ambassadors and officials from countries on the UN Security Council. The attack murdered five people.

It also sent a senior intelligence official to London, Paris and Washington to make Israel's case against Syria. "We [want] to show them that there is a direct link from Syria to the Islamic Jihad [which was responsible for the attack]," said Foreign Ministry Director-General Ron Prosor.

The Syrian government has strongly denied any connection to the blast. "This issue is untrue and baseless," the Syrian Interior Minister said on Monday.

Foreign Ministry Silvan Shalom said that instructions for the attack came from the Islamic Jihad's leadership, "which is located in Syria."

Shalom said that Hizbullah also had spent millions of dollars to support terrorist activity within Israel.

US Embassy spokesman Paul Patin told The Jerusalem Post that, "Israel has laid out its case. We will take seriously what Israel says and study it." He added that even before the attack, the United States considered the Islamic Jihad to be a terrorist organization. "As for Syria," he said, "our problems with Syria are well known."

Islamic Jihad leaders in Damascus, who initially denied involvement in the Tel Aviv terror attack, reversed themselves Monday and accepted responsibility. An Islamic Jihad official said that the attack was the work of a small cell acting on its own.

Israel insisted the attack was the work of the Islamic Jihad leadership, not simply a rogue cell.

On Tuesday the UN Security Council condemned the Tel Aviv terror attack, but did not mention Islamic Jihad. The organization was mentioned in the original statement, initiated by the United States. However Algeria insisted that it be removed. Such statements need the consent of all Council members to be issued.

Israel is also continuing to pressure the PA to start dismantling terrorist organizations in the territories. Without such action, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, no diplomatic progress will be possible, because the terror will continue, and Israel cannot accept that.

Defense Minister Mofaz said that Israel will not allow Islamic Jihad's representative to go to Cairo for talks with leaders of the other Palestinian terrorist organizations about a formal cease-fire with Israel. He also said that no Jihad members will be included in the list of 400 Palestinian prisoners that Israel plans to release in the coming months.

Justice Ministry Tzipi Livni said that she has canceled a planned meeting of the joint Israeli-Palestinian committee on prisoner releases.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.