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Syrian Dogs

"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time."

"That was the curious incident."

Sherlock Holmes, "Silver Blaze"

Twice in recent times, Syria has suffered grave insults to its sovereignty. First, Israel conducted an air strike on something deep in Syrian territory. Then, more recently, one of the leaders of Hezbollah was killed by a car bomb in Damascus.

In both cases, the response by the Syrian government acted with tremendous restraint. In the case of the air raid, they protested very trivially, then promptly leveled and buried the site of the attack. There was no protest to the UN over the attack, no displaying of innocent civilians killed, no threats of retaliation. It was as if they would prefer to just pretend that the whole thing never happened.

In the case of Imad Mughniyeh, a case of "he who lives by the car bomb dies by the car bomb," the Syrian response has been positively tepid. No accusations, no arrests, no denunciations, no nothing.

There are, generally, two explanations as to why a nation will not draw attention to such violations of its sovereignty. They can either wish to avoid a confrontation, or wish to not draw too much scrutiny into their activities.

The first explanation tends to be more common among Western democracies. Far, far too many times the US has been told to "not make an issue" or "don't cause a confrontation" when facing perfidy by other nations. It's appeasement, plain and simple, and was the hallmark of our foreign policy for far too long -- especially during the Carter years. And it's the one that's most susceptible to public pressure.

The other explanation is more common among less than democratic states -- of which Syria is definitely one.

In the case of the Israeli attack, the explanation I find most plausible is that Syria was doing something at that site that they didn't want the world to find out about, and Israel thought posed enough of a threat to themselves that they risked a military strike -- not only running the chance that Syria would respond militarily, but in the process Israel demonstrated its capabilities against Syria's defenses most graphically.

The leading scenarios that fit those criteria are that Syria was working on weapons of mass destruction. The circumstantial evidence is not convincing, but certainly compelling -- there are ties between Syria and North Korea, and North Korea has been working on nuclear weapons. The best explanation I've heard is that the site was not a nuclear weapons research site, but a weapons assembly site. And that is not a happy thought.

Regardless, we may not know for a long time, if ever. Syria and Israel ain't talking.

On the matter of Mr. Mughniyeh, the most logical explanation I can see for why Syria isn't making a big deal of his death is that they already know who did it -- and don't have any problems with it. A scenario where they decided that he was too much of a liability -- say, he was planning some future moves that Syria saw as dangerous to its own interests -- and chose to get rid of him in a way that would send an unmistakable message that his death was no accident fits that scenario quite nicely.

Syria, it must be remembered, is one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism in the world. Organizations that are outlawed in most of the civilized world not only have their headquarters in Damascus, they can be found in the phone books. Their domination of Lebanon -- through their proxies in Hezbollah -- goes back decades. Their sponsorship of other terrorist groups is legendary.

When they go to this much effort to avoid drawing attention to themselves, that is precisely the time when we should be looking at them most carefully.


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Comments (3)

Syria's facility went up at... (Below threshold)

Syria's facility went up at about the same time Saddam, if he had any nuclear tech, would have been looking to unload it.

More likely, its also times nicely when Iran supposedly stopped its weapon development. I could see a deal like this in 2003:

"Syria, Uncle Sam in uncomfortably close right now. We can't hide enrichment from their technology. But we can claim its for peaceful purposes. However, if they find evidence of weapons, we're done. Could you babysit our weapons development while we proceed with enrichment? Meanwhile without enrichment there's little physical proof the US can acquire about your program. They would need to base any action on intel and no one trusts them anymore."

Not being familiar with the... (Below threshold)

Not being familiar with the name Imad Mughniyeh, I did a little looking. (The names sound all the same to me) I was unaware that this was the man who was responsible for so many spectacular terror attacks. But Syria has a history of not retaliating against such actions taken within their borders. At this point it would be a tacit admission that their efforts to improve relations with the west, in particular the US, is nothing but lip-service.

From WashingtonInstitute.org:

[I]n 2003, Israel bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp outside the capital; a Damascus car bomb killed a top Hamas leader in 2004; in 2006, Israeli planes buzzed Asad's palace in Latakia; and last year, Israel destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in Syria. None of these provocations elicited Syrian retaliation.

However, they think that his death will not affect Hizballah militarily so much as politically.

Politically, however, Mughniyeh was a constant within a rapidly changing organization. Some reports in the Arab press suggest that there is growing dissention within the ranks of Hizballah, stemming from the 2006 summer war, slow progress in rebuilding the south, and Nasrallah's ongoing leadership of the organization -- something that violates Hizballah's own bylaws. One report last month even suggested that Nasrallah's military authority had been stripped and awarded to the deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem. But since Hizballah is an opaque organization, these reports cannot be taken at face value. Still, Mughniyeh's departure removes Hizballah's key conduit to Iranian intelligence and could serve to exacerbate organizational fissures within the organization.
You're right about the Syri... (Below threshold)

You're right about the Syrian not making any official accusations [over the Mughniyeh assassination], but unofficially they've launched a media campaign to set the stage for the use of Mughniyeh's assassinations as a pressure tool against their regional foes - most notably those in Lebanon fighting to keep Syria out of the tiny country.

Good analysis of the "mystery" bomb site!






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