The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, November 23, 2003

Boiler being fired for the Damascus Express?

As Marshal Foch said [1] in September 1914
Pressé fortement sur ma droite, mon centre cède, impossible de me mouvoir, situation excellente, j'attaque.

A similar idea may - I'm merely hypothesising here: let the evidence speak for itself - be informing the strategy of USG as it faces the gentle decline of its fortunes in Iraq.

Despite all the controversy about American unilateralism, the PNAC/NSS strategy in the Middle East was never a solely US project. Israel makes the difference, warrants the expenditure of time and money, justifies the negative sequelae.

In his London speech, Bush used the expression forward strategy (twice). My understanding of forward in the context is that, historically, it has referred to a policy devised to encourage a reaction from the enemy, political or military.

(Israel, of course, is a master of the use of the forward strategy - road closures, the Fence (aka the Wall), and so forth, designed to bring forth violence from the Palestinians to be used to justify harsher measures against them. The aim is that, just as the proverbial frog is brought to the boil by imperceptible increases in temperature, so Israeli measures can be brought to the level necessary to safeguard the Jewish state without a step-change involving that state being identified as the aggressor.)

So far as I'm aware, there is no direct evidence suggesting that a military attack on Syria is being planned by USG [2]. But its ally, Israel, has already mounted such an attack: the raid by Israeli jets on the Palestinian training camp in Syria on October 6.

Meanwhile, the London Sunday Times [3] today has a piece referencing
a letter to an Israeli newspaper published last week [in which] Major-General Shlomo Gazit, the former head of military intelligence, expressed misgivings about the threats against Syria.

And - news to me - the piece says
He cited, in particular, a recent incident when Israeli planes buzzed the palace of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

Imagine how Icon of the Week President John Fitzgerald Kennedy would have reacted if Nikita Khrushchev had sent over some MiGs to buzz the White House back in 1962. How many would have got back to Russia, do you think?

Gazit goes on:
For several weeks now Israel has been inciting and humiliating Damascus. It’s only a matter of time until the Syrians are unable to hold back and then the big blaze will begin.

The piece mentions an incursion of Israeli F-15s over Beirut; and supplies a quote (November 16) from Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces:
If Syria continues to ignore the message that Israel and other countries have sent, it may be necessary to send further messages of a different nature.

Assad is holding his fire, for the moment - I would hypothesise that he is betting against an Israeli invasion in the short term, and is waiting for the US to leave Iraq in order to secure an alliance with the new government in Baghdad. (Though that's pure connect-the dots - to be tested against the evidence as it comes to hand.)

From the US viewpoint, though, Israel's forward policy towards Syria is both threat and opportunity: on the one hand, an unexpected Israeli attack on Syria leading to war made whilst large numbers of US forces are in theatre would be less than welcome.

On the other hand, if USG, after due planning, wanted to have a casus belli for an invasion of Syria, Israeli action could be just the ticket - with (barely) plausible deniability.

[Gazit is not the only senior retired figure from the Israeli security establishment to have gone on the record against Sharon's policies: on November 14 I mentioned the statement from four former Shin Bet leaders condemning his policy towards the Palestinians. There seems to be something of an epidemic of self-hatred amongst ex Israeli brass!]

  1. The most cursory of searches will reveal more versions than you can shake a stick at. I choose this as the least epigrammatic, and therefore - slim hope! - most likely to be authentic.

  2. There's been action in Congress, in the shape of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act of 2003 (HR 1828 - Senate Roll Call #445 THOMAS is partly down, again...) The latest draft on GPO is a whole bunch of Sharpton-style grandstanding, plus some intrinsically puny substantive provisions. But, of course, it's not the intrinsic that counts - it's the element of diplomatic warning. What with THOMAS being down, I can't tell whether Bush has signed the bill - this AIPAC page suggests not. Yet.

  3. Part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation stable - which includes the Likudophile Weekly Standard.


THOMAS is now functioning: the HR 1828 page - this link - says that the last action was on November 20, when the House agreed the Senate amendments to the bill and a Motion to reconsider laid on the table. I'm not chasing down what that means right now...

And the buzzing of Assad's palace took place in the middle of August.

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