The BBC reports, of the murder of the Lebanese politician Pierre Gemayal: 'US President George W Bush called for a full investigation to identify "those people and those forces" behind the killing.'
I certainly agree, but I have a strong suspicion I know already who is behind the killing. To adapt slightly a phrase of Charles Krauthammer: the dimmest ophthalmologist ever to come out of British medical school is your man. A little over a year ago I wrote a 'Thunderer' column for The Times entitled 'Isolate Syria's tyranny'. Here it is again, I'm afraid - because nothing has been done about Syria's death-squad despotism.
Isolate Syria's tyranny
“SYRIA IS LUCKY to have Bashar Assad as its President,” declared George Galloway, the indefatigable MP, on a trip to Damascus this summer. Now a UN report has found strong evidence of Syrian complicity in the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February. None but a dedicated apologist for tyranny should demur at a strategy of confrontation.
Tony Blair has declined to rule out sanctions against Syria, but they would be a minimal step. Against Baathist Iraq, sanctions were porous, ineffectual, corruptly administered and a public relations disaster. Against Syria, they need to be more than symbols of disapproval. Political, diplomatic and economic pressure should be exerted with the declared aim of regime change. Forcing that outcome now is right and timely, and may obviate the need to pursue it militarily later.
After 9/11, President Bush declared that Syria had to “decide which side of the war against terror it is on”. There is little doubt of the answer. Under its dynastic despotism, Syria supports terrorists and grants them sanctuary. Islamic Jihad has its headquarters in Damascus, and Syria is known to have channelled arms from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Syria also has “an active chemical weapons programme, including significant reserves of the deadly nerve agent sarin”.
Whereas Western leaders have invested faith in Syria to support a Middle East peace settlement, those hopes have never been repaid. Successive Israeli leaders have been ready to return the entire Golan Heights to Syria, but Syria has stymied agreement by insisting also on a small parcel of land that safeguards Israel’s access to the Sea of Galilee. No Israeli Government would risk its principal water supply by ceding land on its own side of the international border. Syria’s fiercely anti-Semitic leadership is clearly determined to sabotage territorial compromise.
Protests in Lebanon after Hariri’s assassination led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops, and Lebanese elections in May decisively rejected Syrian influence. Assad felt the diplomatic pressure so keenly that he fruitlessly sought support from Saudi Arabia. Beyond Iran, his international support is scant. Enforcing the isolation of this callow and callous ruler is the least that a humane and pacific foreign policy must aim for.