[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Analysis: Discreet US warning to Syria

By David Bamford
BBC correspondent in Washington

If the US administration was embarrassed by Israel's air strike on Syria, it didn't show it.

US President George W Bush
Bush refused to criticise the Israeli air strike
President George W Bush was quick to repeat his standard line that follows atrocities against Israeli civilians, complete with his customary contradictory caveat.

Mr Bush said Israel had the right to defend itself and should not be constrained from doing so; at the same time, Israel should avoid escalating tension in the region.

Meanwhile, Mr Bush's spokespeople have been filling out other aspects of the administration's formal Middle East position.

The US is not inclined to allow any UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's action that does not take into account the killing of 19 Israeli civilians that preceded it.

And the onus for preventing all violence lies with the Palestinians, not the Israelis, and their willingness to crack down on terrorism.

Shot across Syria's bows

There is a reasonable likelihood that Israel's chosen target in Syria was not an operational Islamic Jihad base but probably empty facility once used as a training camp by the all but defunct Palestinian group known as the PFLP-General Command.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Damascus, 3 May 2003
Washington wants Syria to break its ties with Palestinian militant groups

It is also reasonable to assume that all parties in the dispute know this.

While it is in the interest of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to highlight the raid as a blow to Islamic Jihad in response to the Haifa attack, it is also in Syria's interest to loudly protest this "murderous" violation by Israel of international law.

In reality, both the protagonists and the US understand the attack for what it was - a limited shot across Syria's bows.

Nevertheless, this was Israel's first incursion of any size into Syria for 30 years.

The US is very concerned that the Israelis do not overstep the mark and destabilize the region as Washington endeavours to resuscitate its flagging Middle East peace road map.

Nor should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be so exacerbated by Israeli actions so as to further undermine US interests in Iraq.

Implied threat

Washington has had limited success in persuading Syria to break ties with Palestinian militant groups and with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Target of Israeli air strike in Syria
Syria said the Israeli attack was "military aggression"
Their offices have been closed in Damascus, but they remain active on Syrian soil, the State Department said on Monday.

It believes Syria has allowed militants to pass through its border to Iraq to fight US troops there. The US Government, egged on by hawkish strategists, says Syria may be attempting to develop offensive chemical or biological weapons.

Syria is one step away from being added to the list of countries that form President Bush's axis of evil, the Washington hawks warn.

The threat is implicit in the US rhetoric against Damascus, that if Syria doesn't take action to curtail its own destabilising tendencies, there are those looking for a green light to help clip Syria's wings.

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy




The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific