Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bombing Syria

While Washington was tied up with the continuing game of charades about the Iraq War, enraptured by Gen. Petraeus' and Amb. Crocker's testimony, on September 6th Israel had been busy bombing alleged nuclear facilities or nuclear material transfers in northeast Syria, near Syria's border with Turkey. The US media is nothing if not myopic, and thus there was little reporting on Israel's incursions apart from toeing the administration line, which is, of course, no longer to be trusted at all. But what's up here? It is an obvious act of war, after all, to violate another state's boundaries and engage in a bombing campaign. Furthermore, the US administration is using the event to suggest strong ties between North Korea's nuclear program and a budding Syrian nuclear program. In addition, this becomes a further reason for war with Iran!

The curious thing, however, is that both Israel and Syria have been quiet about the bombing as well. Israel is imposing a censorship clampdown, while Syria says "no biggie." Josh Marshall speculates,
...what did happen in the Syrian desert a couple weeks ago? Most if not all the articles I've seen speculating about a Syrian nuclear program as the target of the raid have had quotes from the always presumptively suspect meddler John Bolton. See for instance today's editorial in the Jerusalem Post. But something of some consequence seems to have taken place. The very sketchy evidence available suggests that it was a substantial operation. And both the Syrians and the Israelis (no doubt for distinct reasons) are being extremely tight-lipped about what happened.

Other possibilities include a raid to take out weapons shipments being transshipped through Syria to Hezbollah or a probing raid to test beefed up Syrian air defenses.

Cheryl Rofer at Whirled View continues the conjecture,

The Observer is trying to put the story together, too. This one seems to be the most credible to me. If Syria had a nuclear program, it was about at the level of Libya's: equipment in boxes, some of it not even unpacked. North Korea's nuclear test told the world that it's not ready to mass-market full-up nuclear weapons, so, even if it was a shipment from North Korea that provoked the Israeli attack, it would more likely have been equipment for a nuclear program than the ultimate threat to Israel.

The fact that Syria has said little about the raid suggests that something not so nice was going on at the facility that was hit and that the raid indeed inflicted the damage Israel desired.

Israel has a number of reasons to remain quiet. It may not want to give away information about the capabilities of its newest bombers. It may not want to inflame relations with Turkey, which was not so far away from the Syrian target. Or things may not have gone as Israel would have preferred, from malfunctions of their new bombers to mistaken intelligence on the target.

In the absence of clear information, John Bolton has made it a two-fer: North Korea is supplying Syria, so we must stop talks with them (although Christopher Hill is not following the neocon line) and it is an excuse for hitting Syria today, Iran tomorrow.

The Observer suggests that it was a dry run for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear targets. DebkaFile, abandoning its usual run at the title for most sensational reporting, tends to support such an interpretation by suggesting that Israel was checking out the Russian anti-aircraft missiles recently installed in Syria, which have also reportedly been installed in Iran.

One thing would seem clear at this point: the US administration is hardly to be trusted when it comes to establishing justifications for war. One reasonable reaction, from Joseph Cirincione:
This story is nonsense. The Washington Post story should have been headlined "White House Officials Try to Push North Korea-Syria Connection." This is a political story, not a threat story. The mainstream media seems to have learned nothing from the run-up to war in Iraq. It is a sad commentary on how selective leaks from administration officials who have repeatedly misled the press are still treated as if they were absolute truth.
Syria, for its part, says the Israeli raid was aborted and Israeli jets dumped fuel tanks, which then fell on the Turkish side of the border. Turkey protested. Israel, in the meantime, has announced that it's prepared for talks with Syria.

What is going on? With so much secrecy surrounding the event, we'll have to see. But one thing is for certain, friends, if we're ultimately looking at a trial-run in Syria for a bombing campaign against Iran, pay very close attention to the justifications.

In the modern state system, invasions or incursions against another country, as a violation of sovereignty (and thus of the very foundations of the state system), are fundamentally illegal. War is only justified - legally and morally - as a defensive response. Humanitarian intervention may be the sole exception to the rule, but the norms of such intervention are still developing and particular interventions nonetheless require clear consensus in the international community as a moral and legal matter.

This is why the Bush administration was at pains to concoct the preemptive war doctrine: to present the appearance of the Iraq invasion and occupation being a defensive war. And this is why, in the clear absence of WMDs, the administration shifted to humanitarian justifications for the invasion (encouraging democracy, stopping Saddam Hussein's human rights abuses, etc.). But, we know well, they did so under false pretenses. And they did so by using the veil of secrecy ("national security"), by meticulously manipulating the media, and by outright lying to American citizens and the global population.

Given the hugely negative and long-lasting consequences of the Iraq War and its conduct - the enormous loss of life, the multi-billion-dollar expense, the collapse of US international standing, the chaos sowed in the Middle East, the increased risk and motivation for terrorism, etc. - we ought to be so extremely careful about the lead-up to war with Iran that we pore over each detail with a microscope. If you think Iraq is a mess, wait until Iran. Be very careful of believing even the slightest bit of information out of the administration and its parrots in the media.

This is not merely a matter of distrusting this particular administration; it's a matter of determining what this century will look like, and not allowing this incompetent and aggressive administration to determine it for us and future generations.

1 comment:

MT said...

Talk about being no safer than before 9-11.