Bashing Syria

It’s happening all over again. This time Syria has received the kiss of the White House don just as laid-out in the 1996 neo-con rule book “Clean Break”, conceived on the bidding of none other than the Israel far-right’s chief thug Benjamin Netanyahu.

The fact that the cabal is religiously sticking to its agenda is predictable but it’s, surely, shocking that world leaders seem bent on bowing to the Bush bullies like a bunch of sycophantic schoolboys even as the Italian premier Berlusconi is saying his mea culpas over Iraq.

On Monday, the UN Security Council (UNSC) voted on a resolution, originally designed to threaten Syria with sanctions should it fail to cooperate with the UN team investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.

Ostensible Syrian allies Russia, China and Algeria managed to water-down the draft removing references to sanctions before voting in favor.

This amendment may sound hopeful but actually means little as the resolution was unanimously passed under Chapter Seven, meaning it is liable to being militarily enforced.

So once again, we have a Mid-East country on the US regime-change list with a Damoclesian sword hanging over its head, should it shrink from prostrating itself before the New World Order by handing over top regime figures for what is referred to nowadays as “justice”.

In this case, the suspects are the Syrian President’s own brother and brother-in-law having been fingered by a Syrian deserter and embezzler who recently telephoned his elder brother from Paris with the words: “I’ve become a millionaire”, or so reports the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Further, the “Mehlis report” is drenched with bias from start to finish, acknowledging the help investigators received from Lebanon and other countries with no mention of Syria.

Moreover, in its “Executive Summary” it terms the assassination of Hariri as “terrorist” but later goes on to suggest “fraud, corruption and money-laundering could have been motives for individuals to participate in the operation”. In this case, his death would not fall under the category of terrorism but criminality.

Indeed, during the UN’s recent 60th anniversary summit, delegates failed to agree on a definition of ‘terrorism’ so if the UN doesn’t recognize the meaning of that word, what is it doing coloring a heavyweight UN report?

But let’s not be too pedantic. Whether or not the higher echelons of the Syrian government were involved in the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister is a useful red herring in the great scheme of things.

Since when has the UN been involved with investigating the demise of individuals, even ones as beloved as Hariri?

If that was ever its mandate, why didn’t it dispatch its minions to search out the killers of JFK, Salvadore Allende, Anwar Sadat or look into the mysterious deaths of Gamal Abdul Nasser and Yasser Arafat?

Why didn’t the UN delve into who poisoned Viktor Yushchenko? The answer is simple. Doing so would not be politically expedient as the investigation of Hariri’s death so transparently is.

It’s clear that Hariri’s assassination is being trumped up as a proverbial smoking gun and a handy emotive one at that – in the ‘out to get Syria’ game, indicating that the White House is scraping the barrel for a regime-change pretext.

Let’s face it. Syria’s president Bashar Al-Assad is no Saddam Hussein. He hasn’t been “gassing his own people” and neither has he invaded his neighbor (he was invited in to Lebanon by the Lebanese government to quell a civil war), nor has he begun a series of pre-emptive wars.

In fact, in the run-up to the Iraq war when Syria held a temporary seat on the UNSC, Al-Assad and his British-born wife were given the red carpet treatment by both Downing Street and Queen Elizabeth.

Unlike Saddam, a rough and ready rifle-wielding bandito-type, Bashar Al-Assad is a soft-spoken eye-doctor unwillingly thrust into power when his popular brother Basil died due to a road accident. And unlike Saddam, Bashar has attempted to implement a series of political, social and economic reforms against opposition from his father’s old guard.

This is a cultured man with whom the West should be dialoguing not demonizing. So where did Al-Assad go wrong and when did he become a marked man?

His greatest ‘mistake’ was being one of the few Arab leaders to speak out against the invasion of Iraq and give public support to Palestinian militant groups deemed ‘terrorist’ by the U.S.

His dressing down of Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair during the latter’s visit to Damascus in front of the cameras was the start of a slippery slope. From then, he could do no right in spite of the fact the vast majority of world nations were of like mind, including France, Germany and Russia.

Since, Syria has been accused of harboring terrorists and allowing insurgents and weapons to freely cross its borders into Iraq.

In answer to these charges, it closed down the Damascus offices of Hamas and other groups and appealed for US assistance in sealing its long porous borders. It also asked Britain to supply it with night-vision goggles so as to police the border, which Britain agreed to do before reneging on its promise.

When Western nations occupying Iraq began playing the tom-toms against Syria’s having over-stayed its welcome in Lebanon, Al-Assad responded by withdrawing Syrian troops and dismantling its intelligence apparatus there. A UN report signed off on Syria’s exit.

So here was a country which does not have weapons of mass destruction, was not threatening or occupying its neighbors, had cooperated with Bush’s war on terror and which has long been asking to return to the peace table with Israel offering peace in exchange for occupied Syrian territory including the strategically important Golan Heights. Ah! Here we may be onto something.

A return to “Clean Break”, whose authors are all current or former members of the Bush administration and include Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz as well as David and Meyrav Wurmser, may give us a clue.

Given a hearty stamp of approval by Dick Cheney and Daniel Pipes, the document calls for the overthrow of both the Syrian and Iranian regimes in order to secure Israel as the dominant regional power, along with an end to the ‘land for peace’ policy.

In light of the sheer ruthlessness of the above in pursuing their Straussian goals, as evidenced by the recent CIA leak case, and their need for a cassus belli to go after Syria, one must take their crocodile tears over Hariri’s death with a huge shovel of salt.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with some questions which deserve mulling over.

Why would the Syrian government on the brink of quitting Lebanon and in the knowledge that it was being squeezed by the White House and Downing Street itching for a fight murder a Lebanese out-of-power politician and with such dramatic fanfare entailing the use of elaborate planning and sophisticated equipment?

The Mehlis report states both the Lebanese and Syrian secret services were tapping Hariri’s phone lines and knew his every movement in advance. That said, wouldn’t a single sniper’s bullet have done the job even more efficiently than a bomb? And, more importantly, fewer individuals would have been involved and the evidentiary paper trail insignificant.

Even if the Syrian regime was dumb enough to kill Hariri in the way that it is alleged, there is a far bigger picture at play, which unfortunately many Lebanese are unable to see.

This myopia is because many Lebanese are rightfully angry over Syria’s extended stay in their country and emotionally traumatized at the passing of a true Lebanese patriot credited for returning parts of Beirut to their pre-war magnificence.

Nevertheless, the Lebanese must realize that any attack on Syria is ultimately an attack on them and with Hizbollah vowing to stand shoulder to shoulder with Damascus yet another Lebanese internal conflagration could be triggered.

Revenge may be sweet but the Lebanese should remember it is not only fleeting it also has a nasty habit of boomeranging.

In this case, the way forward for everyone concerned should be a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I can only hope that Lebanon won’t allow itself to be used as a pawn in a foreign power play destined to benefit Israeli expansionism and neo-con hegemonic ambitions. And, even more importantly, I would urge world leaders to look up the meaning of ‘integrity’ before locating their missing cajones.

LINDA S. HEARD is a specialist writer and columnist on Mid-East affairs based in Cairo. She can be contacted at