U.S. Military Raids into Syria?
Lost in the media storms surrounding the Libby indictment and appointment of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court is a rather strong escalation of tensions between the United States and Syria.
Syria accuses US of launching lethal raids over its borders (London Sunday Telegraph)
Syria has accused the United States of launching lethal military raids into its territory from Iraq, escalating the diplomatic crisis between the two countries as the Bush administration seeks to step up pressure on President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Major General Amid Suleiman, a Syrian officer, said that American cross-border attacks into Syria had killed at least two border guards, wounded several more and prompted an official complaint to the American embassy in Damascus. He made the allegations during an official press tour of Syrian security forces on the Iraqi border, which the US claims is a barely guarded passage into Iraq for hardcore foreign jihadis.
The charge follows leaks in Washington that the US has already engaged in military raids into Syria and is contemplating launching special forces operations on Syrian soil to eliminate insurgent networks before they reach Iraq.
“No one in the administration has any problem with acting tough on Syria; it is the one thing they all agree on,” said Edward Walker, a former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, who is now head of the Middle East Institute think-tank. “I’ve heard there have been some cross-border activities, and it certainly makes sense as a warning to Syria that if they don’t take care of the problem the US will step up itself.” But he warned that the increased blurring of battle lines between Iraq and Syria could turn a diplomatic stand-off between the two nations, playing out at the UN, into a fully fledged military confrontation. “It could escalate. With Syrian border guards getting shot, it could turn into a major issue.”
Interestingly, there are no quotes in the story from the United States government either confirming or denying these raids.
Despite Warnings, U.S. Leans On Syria (LAT, p. 1)
The Bush administration has embarked on an effort to build strong international pressure on Syria despite warnings from some Arab leaders and Israelis that doing so could lead to a chaotic collapse or even the rise of a fundamentalist Islamic regime in Damascus, U.S. officials say. American diplomats have been trying to enlist other nations to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad as the United Nations weighs how to respond to an investigator’s report implicating top Syrian officials in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Foreign ministers of U.N. Security Council member countries are to meet today to consider a resolution that would press Syria to cooperate more fully in the investigation. The Bush administration has increasingly focused on Syria as a central obstacle to its goals in the region, and wants to use outrage over the assassination to force Damascus to halt the flow of insurgents into Iraq, loosen its grip on neighboring Lebanon and end its support of Islamic militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
But some Arab leaders and other allies say the Syrian government is already fragile and isolated. They have warned that international sanctions or other measures could topple the regime, destabilizing an important corner of the Middle East and possibly opening the way for Islamist groups such as the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The outlawed organization, which is alleged by some to have ties to Al Qaeda, has been badly weakened by Assad’s government and that of his long-ruling father, Hafez Assad. However, it still is widely considered to have the broadest base of support of any Syrian opposition group.
Some Israeli officials have been quoted in Jerusalem recently as privately warning that Assad’s fall could stir chaos on Israel’s northern border and hand power to the Muslim Brotherhood. A senior administration official acknowledged the risk, and that U.S. officials had found no preferable successor. Nevertheless, he said that in meetings of top U.S. officials, “no one is arguing that we shouldn’t push them too hard. Quite the opposite.”
Certainly, the United States military has its hands full at the moment without going to war with Syria, risking escalation across the region. While I agree that diplomatic action from the United Nations is likely to be virtually meaningless, it is not at all clear that the immediate threat to U.S. national security warrants much riskier action.