Israel Stopped from Spoiling Washington’s Syrian Maneuver

mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/SHALOMI.jpg” align=”left” border=”0″>Most Israelis waited with bated breath Sunday night, August 10, for a formidable Israeli response to the fourth Hizballah cross-border bombardment in three days – the first to take a life since the IDF quit southern Lebanon to agreed lines three years ago. The hotels and guest-houses of northern Israel’s small communities, plagued by unemployment, had been celebrating a good season after three slow years.
Hours after 16-year old Haviv Dadon was killed by a Hizballah shell, the Israeli air force struck a Hizballah artillery position outside the Lebanese village of Jijim. That attack was meant only as a pinprick, the foretaste of a badly-needed major Israeli offensive deep inside Syria to force Damascus to hold Hizballah back from further escalating its cross-border violence.
Israel’s massive assault did not materialize. The “Northern Confrontation Front Forum” complained bitterly that Israel’s deterrent powers were being eroded in full view of the terrorists.
debkafile‘s military sources report that this inaction was the consequence of an Israeli approach to Washington. Jerusalem argued that destroying a single gun position was a feeble response for the shelling of a civilian community that killed a teenager sitting on a step and eating a sandwich lunch. The shell was fired laterally with no Israeli aircraft overhead. Damascus needed to be taught a lesson for encouraging Hizballah violence before the border crisis deteriorated any further.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that this argument fell on deaf ears. Israel was told to hold its horses. Jerusalem then lowered its sights to action against Syrian targets in Lebanon. A list was forwarded to Washington. According to our sources, it is still under study while American policy-makers ponder how to proceed next.
By and large, the Bush administration would prefer that Israel refrain from any military action at all and be satisfied with a strong American protest to Bashar Assad accompanied by a few well-chosen public words calling on him to rein in the Hizballah terrorists. Washington is at this time using kid gloves with the Syrian ruler and expects Jerusalem to follow suit. Damascus is to be treated gently notwithstanding Syria’s deep involvement in anti-American warfare by opening its frontiers to the thousands of Syrian, Palestinian, Yemeni, Saudi, Sudanese and Egyptian combatants flocking to the ranks of pro-Saddam guerrilla units, hiding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and allowing free passage to al Qaeda operatives. Yet the Bush administration entertains hopes that Syria will open up its intelligence channels in Iraq and help American forces locate Saddam Hussein.
US forces last week reopened the Iraqi-Syrian trade route linking the Mosul region of northern Iraq and eastern Syria and reactivated the disused Turkish-Syrian railway lilne into Iraq. Washington was also behind the unexpected rapprochement this week between Ankara and Damascus.
These important concessions were meant to convince Assad that his assistance would be rewarded by the easing of Syria’s isolation in the region and economic aid.
The official Turkish announcement Sunday night of its willingness to send troops to Iraq ties in with the same maneuver. However badly the Americans need supplementary international troops for Iraq, the passage of Turkish forces through the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq would have been a recipe for big trouble. Bringing them in through Syria will circumvent that problem.
All these delicate ploys are still in mid-air. Washington fears that a powerful Israeli reprisal aimed directly against Syria would bring all them crashing down.
However, debkafile‘s military analysts doubt that Israeli military restraint will produce the desired results from the Syrian president any more than America’s restraint in the face of Syria’s lax conduct towards al Qaeda. Damascus international airport is a main transit station for al Qaeda operatives traveling between the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Europe. They are also permitted to lodge in the Syrian capital for 3 or four days while they make traveling arrangements for the next leg of their journeys, which may well take them to a Hizballah base in Lebanon. The Syrians fob off Washington’s complaints by claiming they have no way of identifying transit passengers while dropping unimportant scraps of intelligence data to the Americans – a far cry from real cooperation.
There are no grounds for expecting the Syrians to be any more forthcoming on important leads to Saddam and his top officials. Nonetheless, some Washington heavyweights have high hopes of Assad coming through with vital intelligence for breakthroughs on both al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Two of the most prominent are the former foreign secretary James Baker, recently tipped for a top post in Baghdad for stabilizing American control in the country, and CIA director George Tenet.
By playing fast and loose with Lebanese-Israel border stability by activating the Hizballah in the face of protests coming from Washington, Assad is seen as displaying contempt for the Americans.
Nonetheless, Jerusalem has been given to understand that reprisals against Syrian targets inside Lebanon – though not Syria proper – are possible, but only if cleared first through the highest levels in Washington.
Israeli defense strategists are deeply disturbed by the Bush administration’s willingness to indulge a certified terrorist group like Hizballah which maintains known links to al Qaeda. They ask how Washington will react when the Palestinian ceasefire founders or terminates in a tempest of suicidal terror. Washington’s policy considerations in relation to Iraq and Syria on the outer geo-strategic rim do not nullify the Sharon government’s security responsibilities towards Shlomi and the towns and villages along its northern border – especially when Shlomi’s situation deeply affects the next stage of Palestinian-Israeli interaction.
The Palestinians, especially Yasser Arafat, are most certainly using a Richter scale to precisely gauge the strength of Israel’s response to the succession of Hizballah attacks and a calculator to count the steps Israel is unable or unwilling to take without Washington’s nod. Like Syria and the Hizballah, the Palestinians are free to deduce from these simple sums that there is little to sop them getting away with scaling up terrorism to attain their objectives

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