On October 16 a Muslim leader, Mahathir Mohammed, delivered the keynote address before an all-Islamic Summit Conference in Malaysia. In his speech Mahathir called for Muslim unity. He condemned terrorism. And he urged the Muslim world to focus on cultural and economic development. All in all, the tone of the speech — and I read the text — was remarkably restrained, given the recent US attack on Iraq and Israel’s continuing brutal treatment of the Palestinians. Yet, the reaction of the western press was to excoriate Mahathir for making anti-semitic remarks, for example, his claim that Israel finds proxies to do its bidding.
Mahathir deserves criticism for several of his statements. But his claim that Israel relies on others to do its bidding was an apt description of the present US-Israel relationship. Within the context of its larger strategy of world domination, the US is now assisting Israel to achieve its goal of regional hegemony in the Mid East. This is reflected in current US policy toward Syria and Iran, which bears a striking resemblance to the priorities of Israel’s hard-line prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
Consider the evidence. On October 15 the US House passed a bill that would impose a variety of sanctions on Syria. The vote was overwhelming: 398-4. On November 11 the US Senate passed a nearly identical bill by a similarly lopsided margin, 89-4. The final wording will give President Bush considerable leeway to impose a wide range of sanctions against the Assad regime in Damascus.
Members of Congress described the bill as necessary to punish Syria for allowing infiltration across the border into Iraq, for pursuing weapons of mass destruction (notice, the same charge leveled against Saddam Hussein), and because of Syria’s military adventures in Lebanon and its support of terrorism.
The problem with these stated reasons is that they fail to withstand closer scrutiny. On October 29 the Washington Post ran a follow up story about alleged infiltration across Syria’s 300-mile border with Iraq. The Post interviewed US military commanders with the 101st Airborne Division, guarding the northern portion of the frontier, and officers with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, currently watching the southern part of the line. The US commanders flatly denied that any significant infiltration was occurring across the border into Iraq.
They conceded that a 60-mile stretch of border north of the Euphrates River remains unpatrolled by U.S. ground forces or Iraqi border police. However, the line is being constantly monitored by air, under a project the US military refers to as Operation Chamberlain. The project involves sophisticated Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) planes that gather information about vehicle movements and relay it to US forces.
If nothing of any consequence is getting through to trouble US forces in Iraq, why did members of Congress cite border infiltration to justify the sanctions bill?
This brings me to the second stated reason, Syria’s alleged pursuit of weapo ns of mass destruction. It’s no secret, the world has known for many years, that Syria has chemical weapons mounted on an aging Soviet era missile force. All very true. The problem is that no one in the House bothered to mention that Syria’s decrepit missiles are its deterrent, markedly inferior I should add, to its neighbor Israel’s larger and vastly more advanced arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The current balance of military power between the two states is weighted so heavily in favor of Israel that to cite Syria’s weaker deterrent as a justification for sanctions is almost laughable. The fact that Israel’s weapons of mass destruction were never mentioned in the discussion about the sanctions bill must have perplexed the many inhabitants of the Mid East who follow US politics more closely than do most Americans, and who live with the constant threat of their presence.
But let us now consider the third stated reason for the sanctions bill, namely, Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon, and terrorism. The problem with this should have been obvious to anyone who follows the news. Ten days prior to the House vote Israeli war planes bombed a site near Damascus. It was a flagrant act of war, an attack deep inside Syria, something Israel had not done for thirty years. Of course, the US media did not portray the attack as terrorism. Whatever we do (and this includes our ally Israel) is not terrorism, but counter-terrorism. To the people on the ground in Syria who were bombed, of course, the attack was surely viewed as Israeli terrorism. It is true that Syria’s military adventures in Lebanon and its support for radical Palestinian groups like Jihad deserve sharp criticism. But sanctions? Did the US impose sanctions on Israel in 1982 when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon and slaughtered as many as 20,000 people, mostly civilians? The invasion was unprovoked. As the Israeli military historian, Ze’ev Schiff, pointed out in his book Green Light Lebanon, the border had been quiet for nearly a year. In the end, Israel had to stage an incident to create the necessary pretext for the attack, which was planned and led by none other than Ariel Sharon; just as the US was forced to stage an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin to â¤justify” the planned massive US bombing of North Viet Nam in the 1960s; and just as Adolf Hitler was compelled to stage a border incident as a pretext for his historic invasion of Poland in September 1939. All similar cases.
When Israel’s 1982 war ended badly, did the US impose sanctions on Israel for occupying southern Lebanon for many years? No, of course not. Israel received a light slap on the wrist, after which the flood of US aid continued. Indeed, it increased.
Obviously, the reasons given by Congress for sanctions against Syria are nothing but smoke and mirrors. But why the ruse? I would argue that deception was deemed necessary because of the sensitive nature of the policy. If the American people understood the actual reason for the sanctions bill they might not support it. And what was the actual reason? It was given last April, as US forces were invading Iraq, in a public statement by Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to Washington. Ayalon called for regime change in Syria and Iran, to be achieved by “diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions, and psychological pressure.” The Israeli ambassador noted that the US invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein had helped create great opportunities for Israel but it was “not enough.” “We have to follow through,” Ayalon told a conference of the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League. â¤We still have great threats of that magnitude coming from Syria, coming from Iran.”
Ayalon stated the real reason. And, notice, this means that Mahathir Mohammed had it exactly right. The US is currently doing Israel’s bidding in the Mid East. Nor is the policy solely that of the conservative Bush administration. The overwhelming votes in the House and Senate show just how deep the support for Ariel Sharon is in Congress. The Bush administration had opposed the House bill, initially. Bush only signed on whenthe bill’s overwhelming passage became inevitable.
And where was the Democratic opposition? Answer: non-existent. In all of Congress only a few individuals dared to speak out. One who did was West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd. Staunch as ever, Byrd led the opposition on the Senate floor. Before the vote he stated that while he is critical of Damascus, he feared the sanctions bill “could later be used to build a case for a military intervention against Syria. The bill speaks of ‘hostile actions’ by Syria against U.S.-led forces in Iraq,” said Byrd. “But I have not seen any evidence that would lead me to believe that it is the government of Syria that is responsible for the attacks against our troops in Iraq. Such insinuations can only build the case for military action against Syria, which, unfortunately, is a very real possibility because of the dangerous doctrine of preemption created by the Bush administration. I will vote against this bill because of that dangerous course that it may portend.”
More and more Byrd sounds like a prophet. The three others who voted with him were Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and James Jeffords (I-Vt).
The Bush administration, meanwhile, continues its pursuit of sanctions against Iran through the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Security Council. Although it remains to be seen how this will all play out, things are likely to get worse, perhaps much worse, before they improve.
Since when have attempts to undermine and topple foreign governments ever brought about peace and stability?
MARK GAFFNEY is the author of Dimona the Third Temple, a pioneering 1989 book about Mordechai Vanunu and the Israeli nuke program. Mark’s forthcoming book about early Christianity, Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes, will be released in May 2004 by Inner Traditions. Mark can be reached for comment at MHGaffney@aol.com