Memo to Damascus: Attack on Syria

U.S military helicopters last Sunday launched a rare attack on Syrian territory close to Iraq, killing eight people in a strike condemned officially by Damascus as “serious aggression,” according to an Associated Press report, which was confirmed by a U.S. military official. The raid by Special Forces targeted Al Qaeda-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. Until now, Americans have been unable to stop the Syrian pipeline, which includes the sending of foreign fighters into Iraq.

The AP quotes the unnamed military official as saying, “We are taking matters into our own hands.” The speaker spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

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Prior to last Sunday’s air strike by U.S. helicopters on a farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border, only U.S. ground troops had crossed into Syria and only when in “hot pursuit” of Syrian or Syrian-backed operatives coming across Syria’s 370-mile border with Iraq. The U.S. attack is the most direct assault against the radical regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad since Israel’s attack on a suspected nuclear plant in September 2007. Israel is believed to have totally destroyed the nuclear weapons plant, which is widely believed to have been backed and staffed by North Korea.

According to U.S. intelligence, 90 percent of foreign fighters enter Iraq from Syria, which is allied with the radical Shia regime in Iran. Syria and Iran are the chief sponsors of Hezbollah, the Shia terrorist group which has gained considerable strength in Lebanon since the war there two summers ago.

The U.S. attack, like that by Israel against the purported nuclear plant, is clearly intended as a “memo” to Bashar Assad, who succeeded his late father Hafez Assad as president of Syria after the latter died. There had been some initial hopes that the younger Assad, who received his M.D. in London, would turn out to be more “moderate” than his hard-line father. Regrettably, that turned out to be wishful thinking. For too long, Bashar Assad has been allowed to get away with interfering in the affairs of neighboring Iraq, supporting terrorists who want to prevent a stable government from being formed, and working to deliver Iraq into a “Shia Crescent” dominated by Tehran and Damascus.

It appears that the United States, when it has “actionable intelligence” has increasingly targeted suspected terrorist sites, even if it means violating the borders of places like Syria Pakistan. In the course of the presidential debates, Barack Obama made it clear that he would authorize such targets if they had “actionable intelligence” that extremists might be finding sanctuary behind the borders of nations which either welcome their presence, or who are incapable of taking such actions to curb terrorists on their own. John McCain said that he would “do what was necessary,” but would not make such a policy explicit in advance.

At this writing, a U.S. intelligence official said Special Forces killed Abu Ghadiyah, the Al Qaeda-linked head of a Syrian network that smuggled fighters, weapons and cash into Iraq. If indeed it were the case that a major Al Qaeda-linked terrorist operative was taken out, it would be consistent with such actions based on “actionable intelligence.” There are to be sure limits on the use of such attacks, and while we support such actions undertaken by the United States or Israel based on reliable and actionable intelligence, this should not be seen as a “blank check” for major military operations, such as attacks on non-terrorist targets, which are not called for except in the most dire of circumstances. The actions in this instance appeared limited, carefully targeted and based on the most reliable “actionable” intelligence that a major terrorist figure has been located.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement that it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d’affaires to protest against the attacks. “Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch an immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The Syrian regime has it all wrong in its self-righteously indignant statement. It is Syria itself that has constantly and consistently violated Iraq’s territorial integrity, just as it had occupied its weak neighbor Lebanon for so many years until the “Cedar Revolution” forced them to withdraw in disgrace. Assad has had numerous opportunities to contribute to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Both U.S. and Israeli officials have attempted to persuade Syria to enter into negotiations with Israel towards achieving a “land for peace” agreement. But Syria, following the patterns of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the current fanatic leaders of North Korea and Iran, has been playing “bait and switch,” pretending to be willing to negotiate while it builds a nuclear weapons plant and launches cross-border raids into Iraq.

Because the attack inside Syria was based on reliable and “actionable intelligence” and resulted in the elimination of a major terrorist figure, we feel it was entirely justified and meets the criteria spelled out by the current administration and a major candidate to be the next president.

We hope that Damascus reads and understands the memo from Washington that it no longer enjoys immunity from retaliation for its destabilizing and terrorist-sponsoring actions.