Socialist Worker

Problems for US as Israel attacks Syria

Issue No. 1872

ISRAEL'S ASSAULT on Syria last weekend has ratcheted up the tensions in the Middle East.

As the respected journalist Robert Fisk says, the attack on Syria was 'another little lethal step along the road to Middle East war'.

An Israeli air strike hit a camp ten miles from the Syrian capital, Damascus, last Sunday.

This was the first Israeli attack inside Syria since the 1973 war when Egypt and Syria fought Israel.

Israel claimed it had hit a 'terrorist training camp'. Syrian residents say the area was popular with people taking picnics and walks.

The attack came after a Palestinian suicide bombing in Haifa which killed 19 people.

Syria called an emergency United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting to discuss Israel's attack. Every state on the council condemned the attack, except the US.

Only last month the US vetoed a UN motion condemning Israel's threats to expel or assassinate the Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat.

George Bush has declared that Syria is a 'sponsor of terrorism'. It is on his 'axis of evil' list.

This is because of Syria's bitter clashes with Israel and its verbal support for the Palestinian struggle.

Syria, along with Iran, supports the radical Islamist group Hezbollah, which drove Israel out of Lebanon in 2000.

Yet the US has been wary about openly supporting Israel's attack on Syria. This is because of the problems the US faces in Iraq.

Before the war on Iraq those close to Bush who form the core of the Project for the New American Century argued a clear strategy.

The first stage was invading and conquering Iraq with the least possible number of troops so they could move on to fight wars in other states, like Syria and Iran.

In this scenario an emboldened US could ensure its 'road map' would be imposed on the Palestinians.

So Rumsfeld and other figures in the Bush administration made warning sounds towards Syria about its 'weapons of mass destruction' after the collapse of Baghdad.

These threats meant that Syria closed down the Damascus offices of the Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

But the US is in a quagmire in Iraq. It has ended up pouring more and more troops into the country as Iraqi resistance has grown.

In turn it faces growing problems over Israel and Palestine.

The right wing Israeli leader Ariel Sharon has been unwilling to give the Palestinians even the weak and divided state promised by the road map.

Israel has continued to assassinate Palestinian leaders, invade Palestinian areas and build a 'separation' wall through the West Bank, while Palestinian groups observed a ceasefire.

These problems have not stopped the US from sabre rattling against Syria and Iran.

The US Congress is discussing a bill that will impose sanctions on Syria.

Ariel Sharon and right wing hawks in the US have formed a group calling for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

But the disaster in Iraq is a gnawing problem for the US establishment.

It shows the Bush gang's strategy for imposing its will on the region is not as simple and easy as they hoped.

Their man at the UN

JOHN NEGROPONTE, the US ambassador to the UN, said, 'What is needed is for Syria to dismantle the terrorism in its borders.'

Negroponte was the US ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s.

He helped to organise the right wing death squads in Honduras and Nicaragua that killed tens of thousands of people.

Shooting down the 'liberated'

BRITISH AND US troops opened fire on demonstrations by unemployed former Iraqi troops last week, killing two men.

The shootings in Baghdad and Basra, Iraq's second city, underlined the colonial nature of the US-British occupation.

In both cities unrest broke out after hundreds of ex-soldiers queued for hours for a promised $40 pay-off.

They have been unemployed and without wages since the occupation authorities sacked the entire Iraqi army in May.

Hussein Hatem was one of the protesters in Baghdad. He was shot twice in the leg by US troops.

He told reporters from his hospital bed that the trouble started 'when one man went to get a drink of water after we had been queuing for five hours.

'The US soldiers wouldn't let him get back in the line and beat him with long batons and electric cattle prods. Then we started throwing stones and they fired back.'

A British military spokesman claimed that his troops had come under fire first in Basra. But eyewitnesses in the city say the British troops opened fire in response to stone throwing. Not one British soldier was reported injured.

The Basra killing challenges the spin that the British military in Iraq is behaving entirely differently from its US counterpart.

Discontent with the occupiers is spreading to parts of the Shia Muslim south of the country in and around Basra.

After three more US troops were shot dead last week lieutenant general Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, admitted:

'The enemy has evolved. It is a little bit more lethal, little bit more complex, little bit more sophisticated and in some cases a little bit more tenacious.

'As long as we are here the coalition need to be prepared to take casualties. We should not be surprised if one of these days we wake up to find there's been a major firefight.'

The disaster of the occupation and a growing scandal over the 'intelligence' used to go to war are hitting support for Bush at home.

A New York Times poll last week found that for the first time a majority do not support his foreign policy.

Fifty six percent of people feel the 'country is on the wrong track' and 53 percent doubt whether the Iraq war has been worth the cost.

Group finds nothing

THE REPORT from US and British military inspectors in Iraq last week has provided a further blow to Tony Blair.

After six months of looking the Iraq Survey Group found precisely no 'weapons of mass destruction'.

That didn't stop George Bush announcing another $600 million to fund more months of futile searching.

The leader of the US-run group, David Kay, is not a neutral observer. He has spent a decade calling for 'regime change' in Iraq.

Until last October he was vice-president of major US defence contractor SAIC.

It has made a fortune out of coordinating Bush's 'homeland security' programme. The company has also won a $650 million contract to provide services to the US army in Iraq.

Kay's report was an attempt to cover up the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction with a stream of speculation.

Dr Glen Rangwala is the Cambridge-based academic who revealed how the British government's 'dodgy dossier' in January was based on a 12 year old thesis.

Rangwala says of this latest report, 'No suspicious activities or residues have been found at the seven sites described in the prime minister's dossier from September 2002.'

He speaks about a test tube of Botulinum toxin that the US and British said was proof of weapons of mass destruction.

The tube had been sitting in the refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist's home for ten years.

Rangwala says this does not amount to evidence of a weapons programme, as the report suggests.

He adds, 'The UK keeps such substances, for example'-as a means to making antidotes.

Last week former British foreign secretary Robin Cook also revealed that Blair had admitted to him on the eve of the war that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

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Article information

Sat 11 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1872
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