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33rd Year of Publication

   OCTOBER 2003 -  Issue #160    


Holding Syria Accountable

Herbert Zweibon

Iraq's aggression against its neighbors, sponsorship of international terrorism, and development of weapons was sufficient cause for the United States to go to war against Saddam Hussein twice in recent years. Shouldn't Syria's occupation of Lebanon, sponsorship of terror groups, and development of chemical and biological weapons suffice to at least trigger U.S. diplomatic and economic sanctions?

U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), in the House, and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA), in the Senate, are sponsoring the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 which, as they describe it, "would give the President tools to impose penalties on Syria if the rogue nation fails to correct its behavior immediately." The bill already has more than 200 Congressional co-sponsors.

At first the Bush administration opposed the bill. At a recent Congressional hearing, Undersecretary of State John Bolton acknowledged Syria allowed "volunteers to pass into Iraq to attack and kill our service members during the war, and is still doing so," and "offers physical sanctuary and political protection to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad." But after a few mild verbal complaints about the Syrians, Bolton proceeded to insist that "we already possess a broad mandate to sanction countries like Syria," thus making the Syria Accountability Act unnecessary. The problem is that the administration has never exercised that mandate -- thus making the new bill imperative.

Now, however, reliable Congressional sources say that the administration, recognizing the overwhelming Congressional support for the bill, has decided to refrain from opposing it. (Perhaps Syrian espionage at Guantanamo was the last straw.)

The irony is that the bill itself is far too weak. It does not impose sanctions; it lists a variety of diplomatic and economic sanctions against Syria, from which the president can choose, if the Syrians continue occupying Lebanon, manufacturing chemical and biological weapons, and sponsoring terror groups. But the bill also contains a "national security waiver" -- it allows the president to suspend imposition of the sanctions if he determines that it is in America's national security interest to sus-pend them. The same device was used to keep American aid flowing to the PLO for the past ten years. Officially, U.S. law barred aid to the PLO if the PLO was violating the Oslo accords. Despite massive violations, both President Clinton and President Bush used the "national security waiver" to keep sending U.S. funds to Arafat.

The president will soon face a similar test with regard to Syria. Once the Syria Accountability Act passes, Mr. Bush will have to decide: will he admit the truth about Syria and impose the sanctions which the Act calls for? Or will he choose the path of appeasement, and use the "national security" loophoole to shield Damascus from the sanctions?

Keeping weapons of mass destruction out of Assad's hands should be as important as it was to keep them out of Saddam Hussein's hands. Shutting down terror offices in Damascus should be part of America's war against terror. And surely Lebanon has as much right to be liberated as did Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, U.N. Resolution 520 requires all foreign troops to leave Lebanese soil.

The United States needs to be consistent in its war against terror. Bush cannot on the one hand overthrow the terror regime in Iraq, while at the same time offering a sovereign state to the Palestinian Authority -- the largest terror entity in the world -- and sheltering Syria, which the Bush administration admits harbors terrorist organizations. The Syrians must be held accountable.  

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel.


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October 2003               - 1 -               Outpost


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