Across the Bay

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Schenker on Mughniyeh and Syria

To add to my own post earlier today, David Schenker comments briefly on the Mughniyeh affair, especially elaborating on a point I raised, and that is how this reflects on Syria:

Mughniyah’s death raises some interesting issues. The fact that Mughniyah was killed in Damascus highlights the Asad regime’s increasing difficulties in protecting the terrorists they provide with “safe haven.” In 2004, another guest of the regime, Hamas leader Izzeddin Subhi Sheikh Khalil, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The Israelis bombed an Islamic Jihad training camp in 2003, buzzed Asad’s Latakia palace in 2006, and destroyed a presumed North Korean-supplied nuclear facility in 2007. As Mughniyah’s aunt told AFP earlier today, “We were shocked to learn that he was killed in Syria. We thought he was safe there.”

In all of these cases, to put it mildly, the Syrian response has been remarkably restrained.

Another interesting issue raised by Mughniyah’s death is the impact this will have on the next U.S. Administration’s policy toward Syria. It’s no doubt problematic that the Asad regime provides sanctuary to top former Saddam regime elements who help orchestrate the insurgency in Iraq, getting a lot of U.S. soldiers killed in the process. But this hasn’t stopped many in the United States from arguing that “dialogue” with Damascus is the solution to these misunderstandings.

But Syrian attempts to harbor a leading killer of American citizens like Mughniyah will likely be viewed even more harshly by Washington. It will be more difficult for a candidate like Senator Obama to make the case for talks when Syrian behavior is so brazenly anti-American. The harboring of Mughniyah and others belies Syrian officials’ claims (like those of Syrian Ambassador Imad Mustafa) that Damascus seeks good relations with Washington.

Now let me add to that, and to what Michael Rubin said, that Zbig Brzezinski was in Damascus today. And, according to SANA, Zbig told journalists that the US and Syria have a shared interest in stability in the region. Now, we all knew that Zbig was a buffoon, but to say this on the day that Imad Mughniyeh was assassinated in Damascus is really a proud moment for the man on whose watch Mughniyeh's bosses took over Iran.

Update: On another note, somewhat related to Schenker's point, here's the latest from the White House. As the press secretary put it:

Today the President signed an Executive Order that takes additional steps with respect to the Syrian regime's continued engagement in certain conduct that formed the basis of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004.

This order expands sanctions to block the property of senior Syrian Government officials and their associates who are determined to be responsible for, to have engaged in, or to have benefited from public corruption. The order also revises a provision in Executive Order 13338 to block the property of persons determined to be responsible for actions or decisions of the Syrian regime that undermine efforts to stabilize Iraq, or allow Syrian territory to be used for this purpose.

In addition to these policies targeted by this Executive Order, the Syrian regime continues to pursue other activities that deny the Syrian people the political freedoms and economic prosperity they deserve, and that undercut the peace and stability of the region. Syria continues to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy, imprison democracy activists, curtail human rights, and sponsor and harbor terrorists. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Syria and the region as they seek to exercise their rights peacefully and to build a brighter future.

So much for Paul Salem's "progress" in "deal-making" on Lebanon.