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Phase two of Operation Reshape the Middle East now underway
Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

by Ash Pulcifer

Phase two of the Bush administration's long publicized plan of reshaping the Middle East is now underway. After removing Saddam Hussein from power and gaining a major foothold in the center of the Middle East, the administration has now redirected its verbal threats to Syria.

Syria has long been a thorn in the side of the major U.S. ally in the region: Israel. Moreover, Damascus also annoyed Washington in its outspoken refusal to support a U.S. invasion in Iraq.

Now, in a matter of weeks, the accusations against Syria by the hawkish members of the Bush administration have reached recent historical highs. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has warned that Syria has been taking "hostile acts" against Washington, alluding to the claim that recently Syria allegedly supplied night vision goggles to Iraq. Furthermore, Rumsfeld stated, "Syria's been on the terrorist list for years."

Rumsfeld's even more hawkish deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told Congress that if the Syrians continue to behave "badly," the United States will "need to think about what our policy is with respect to a country that harbors terrorists or harbors war criminals, or was in recent times shipping things to Iraq."

Some members of Congress are already falling in line, with Representative Eliot Engel of New York saying, "Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is defeated, it is time for America to get serious about Syria."

Apparently, the American public agrees. As stated in a Reuter's report of April 09, a whopping forty-two percent of Americans said the United States "should take action against Syria if it were helping Iraq." This even before the real rhetoric has begun.

But the motives for an invasion of Syria are not as clear, which is why it is unlikely that the Bush administration will try to take military action against Damascus. They, themselves, have admitted that they would use political and economic pressure before a military attack. It is generally known that the Syrian government is not a threat to outside states other than Israel due to Jerusalem's occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights. Because of this, Syria has said to be supporting the organization Hezbollah (and other radical Palestinian groups), which is classified as a terrorist organization by Washington.

If the Syrian government were to be removed, or made quiescent due to the threat of a hostile United States in the region, it would certainly serve Israel's interest. Indeed, Aluf Benn, of Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper, said on April 14 that "Israel will suggest that the United States also take care of Iran and Syria because of their support for terror and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Israel will point out the support of Syria and Iran for Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers an important target in the war against international terrorism."

Israel would also love to restart an important oil pipeline that used to transfer oil from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul down to Israel's northern port of Haifa. This would greatly reduce Israel's cost of importing oil, as currently the Israelis import their oil needs from Russia. This pipeline went offline in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state. Israel would need the consent of Iraq (which is now possible due to the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime) and Syria, since the pipeline will run through it into Israel. Without Syria, Israel would have to redirect the pipeline through Jordan, which is more costly but is currently being discussed due to the lack of friendship with Israel's northern neighbor.

In addition to Israel's interest, the Bush administration would enjoy having a new pro-U.S. government in Syria, and, due to their quick military success in Iraq, they may think such an idea is a tangible possibility. This is why in recent days we have seen the administration testing the waters, so to say, to monitor the global and national political opinion towards a harsher U.S. foreign policy in regards to Syria and other states Washington considers undesirable.

Therefore, watch and see what phase three will bring. Whether the Bush administration takes economic or military measures against Syria depends on whether the hard-line elements of the administration, mainly situated in the Pentagon, win over the more diplomatic members of the State Department. With the Pentagon able to point to their successful unilateralist venture in Iraq, phase three just may go into effect.

[Ash Pulcifer is a U.S. based analyst of international conflicts and is also a human rights activist. While he does not justify or accept the killing of civilians in warfare, he attempts to understand why groups or governments resort to such means in order to achieve their strategic objectives.]

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