Monday, January 17, 2005

Should the US Attack Syria? Some Say Yes

This interesting report by UPI's Intelligence Correspondent, Richard Sale, gives a very different perspective on Syria. As usual he saves the qualifying statements for the end. There is certainly an intimidation campaign going on, as one intelligence officer put it.

01/11/05 -- New York, NY (UPI) -- Bush administration hard-liners have been considering launching selected military strikes at insurgent training camps in Syria and border-crossing points used by Islamist guerrillas to enter Iraq in an effort to bolster security for the upcoming elections, according to former and current administration officials.

Pressure for some form of military action is also coming from interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, these sources said.

Some former and serving U.S. intelligence officials who have usually been opposed to any expansion of U.S. military activities in the region are expressing support for such strikes.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official told United Press International, "I don't usually find myself in sympathy with the Bush neo-cons, but I think there is enough fire under this smoke to justify such action."

Referring to the escalating attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq by Iraqi insurgents, he added, "Syria is complicit in the (anti-U.S.) insurgency up to its eyeballs."

"Syria is the No. 1 crossing point" for guerrillas entering Iraq," Gary Gambill, editor of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, said. He added that Damascus "does nothing about it."

An administration official said Syria has "camps in which Syrians are training Iraqis for the insurgency and others where Iraqis are training Syrians for the same purpose" which could be hit by U.S. air strikes. Gal Luft, a former Israeli military official with ties to Israeli and U.S. intelligence, said, "I have heard of the same thing about the camps."

Recently, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that senior Baath Party officials from Iraq are operating from Syria where they provide financing and direction to the cells of Iraqi insurgents killing Americans, sparking new discussions within the administration about possible measures against Syria.

"There are all sorts of discussions going on, the White House, the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs," said former CIA counterterrorism chief, Vince Cannistraro.

He felt the talk of strikes "is part of a general plan of intimidation." The White House did not return phone calls. U.S. officials told United Press International that money, direction, weapons and personnel are flowing into Iraq from Syria, ending up in Iraqi cities such as Iskanderiya, Baqouba, Latafiya and Fallujah.

Damascus is also home to associates of a top insurgency commander now affiliated with al-Qaida, Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, who is responsible for many major suicide bombing attacks in Iraq, U.S. officials said.

The presence of a Zarqawi branch in Damascus, discovered last summer, was said to have acted as a major spur in uniting France and the United States in supporting U.N. Resolution 1559 that demanded Syria withdraw from Lebanon and that elections be held in April 2005, U.S. officials said.

Gambill charged that a major Zarqawi deputy lives in Damascus. In addition to Syria being used as a rear area for insurgents, it is a key center of finance for former Saddam Hussein officials who are leading the insurgency, thanks to stashes of Iraqi cash that could run as high as $3 billion, which is all in the Syrian banking system,
according for former and serving administration officials.

There are also allegedly "many millions of dollars" from Palestinian groups flowing into Syria that are also being used to help finance anti-American guerrilla groups in Iraq, these sources said.

The Bush administration has applied increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to halt the activities of militant groups inside Syria, and to arrest and extradite former Saddam Hussein officials who are the leading financiers, according to several U.S. government sources.

So far there has been no positive response, they said. What especially worries U.S. former and serving intelligence analysts is the seeming weakness of Assad to act against these groups. According to these sources, Assad is "well aware of the U.S. Army on its border to the east," and does not want to antagonize the United States, in the words of one.

In fact, Bashar's inner circle of key advisers consists of reformist, "smart, streetwise young technocrats" who are urging Bashar to yield to U.S. pressure and begin to shut down some of the anti-U.S. activity, one U.S. official said.

But Bashar is also surrounded by "the old guard" -- rogue members of the ruling circle, "various people who are making millions and millions of dollars" by allowing former Baath officials to shelter in Syria, this source said.

"If something goes wrong, they can pack up and go and live in Geneva," he said.

Because of the rogue elements, after the technocrats (who are also pro-reform) give Bashar their views, they often find themselves visited the next day by hard-line members of Syria's Mukhabarat, or secret police, who tell them to keep their mouths shut, according to this official.

"Bashar is trapped," this U.S. government official said. "He's the prisoner of Zenda." Luft agreed, saying, "The Mukhabarat and some of the old guard are known to be pressuring Bashar's senior confidents to ignore U.S. demands."

One former senior CIA official, usually an administration critic, said, "We should send a cruise missile into south-side Damascus and blow the Mukharbarat headquarters off the map. We should first make clear to them that they are the target."

But are the hawks likely to get their strikes? Former CIA Syria expert, Martha Kessler doesn't think so. "I don't think the administration can afford to destabilize another country in the region," she said.

Kessler pointed out that Syria has tried, often in vain, to cooperate with the United States, only to be either snubbed or ignored. According to Kesssler, Syria offered to station U.S. forces on its soil before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Syrians have also opened their intelligence books that identify assets in Europe, including front companies, to the administration in an attempt to help track down al-Qaida.

But Kessler said a chief reason for not moving against Damascus is that any strikes would "destabilize Lebanon," where the Lebanese Hezbollah movement awaits orders from Iran before launching retaliations against Israeli attacks.

"Damascus is not the heartbeat of this Iraqi insurgent movement," she said.

However, one administration official said, "We have got one hell of a problem."


Another interesting report from Reuters on "Female Hit Squads" in Iraq being coordinated by Iraqis in Syria also adds fat to the fire.

Female hit-squads on the loose 17jan05

A WOMAN pulled a pistol on Iraq's defence minister in his office -- but then broke down in tears in a failed assassination plot.

Hazim al-Shaalan said the woman, 40, had drawn the gun, loaded with poisoned bullets, during a meeting with him more than a week ago.
She had said she wanted to pass on some important security information to Mr Shaalan, the al-Hayat newspaper reported.

The woman, an Arab from Kirkuk, was the wife of a man jailed over a Baghdad car bombing. Mr Shaalan said the plan had been hatched by a Syria-based Iraqi group led by an Iraqi Baath party official. A half brother of Saddam Hussein was also involved, he said. Mr Shaalan said the woman had revealed a wider plot involving a group of 50 women chosen for terrorism and assassinations in Iraq.

They were wives or relatives of people jailed or killed by US-led forces. Mr Shaalan said they had been trained in Syria under the supervision of Iraqi terrorist elements.

The women had then been sent to different Iraqi ministries and state institutions, he said. Mr Shaalan has repeatedly accused Syria and Iran of backing rebels in Iraq. Damascus and Tehran deny the accusations.

As one reader remarked: "Christ Almighty! Investors Business Weekly urges the invasion of Syria.


At 1/17/2005 07:45:00 AM, Blogger Robert Lindsay said...

Surely there will be some sort of an attack on Syria by February, if all goes as planned. That's the plan, anyway. They could always call it off.

At 1/17/2005 12:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think all of this talk about attacking Laos, er Cambodia, er Syria is just intended as brinksmanship to get Assad to move.



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