Editorial: Sharon on the Rampage


6 October 2003

No one doubted that there would be Israeli reprisals after Saturday’s suicide bomb attack in Haifa. But no one in their wildest dreams imagined that the target would be Syria.

Why Syria? For all its hard-line rhetoric against Israel, there has not been a shot fired across the makeshift frontier on the Golan Heights for years. If the Israelis were seriously interested in hitting Islamic Jihad, they could have done so far more effectively in the Gaza Strip or with a strike on one of its bases in Lebanon. Yet they chose a target deep in Syrian territory even though both the Syrians and Islamic Jihad deny there are any bases there.

This was no message to Islamic Jihad. It was a cold, unambiguous threat to Syria: Either jump to Israel’s diktats or else. There can be no question about it. Immediately after the strike, the Israelis then warned Syria there would be more if it did not close down so-called terrorist organizations.

An inevitable conclusion must be that the Israelis were acting on behalf of the US; it is difficult to believe that that they would have struck without the green light from Washington. We know that the Americans have loudly accused Syria of supporting terrorism and warned it to stop. Damascus is further seen by the Americans as a problem in Iraq, providing support to officials of the former regime and allowing Syrian volunteers to cross the border and join in attacks on US troops. The notion that Washington used the Israelis to threaten the Syrians into line makes too much sense to be dismissed.

But whether the Americans were actively behind this attack — and the remote possibility exists that a maniacal Ariel Sharon acted alone, ordering the attack to ingratiate himself even further with Washington — it is a terrifying development. This could have potentially catastrophic results. It could well end in war. Sharon certainly knows that, even if the Americans do not. He knows that the strike will escalate tension in the Middle East, not diminish it. He knows that the Syrian government will not take this outrage lying down, that it will respond in anger and, far from ending support for organizations which the Israelis and Americans label as terrorist, will strengthen them.

The Israelis have hit at Syria, fully aware that it could lead to war. Is that the real objective? We know Sharon does not want peace with the Palestinians, that he wants rid of them. War would certainly provide him with the opportunity to terrorize them into flight. But so what if he has been shown in his true colors? We have long known that he is a warmonger.

What matters is that, at a stroke, the whole region has been put in immense and immediate danger. Sharon is on the rampage; he must be reined in — fast.