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America and Israel spin propaganda circles around the Arabs, fumes Sami Moubayed
The Syrians are disappointed with the synchronised silence of the Arab world over the latest Israeli aerial invasion of Syria, which took place on 6 September. They complained to the UN Security Council on 11 September. The Syrians are equally disgusted with the stream of accusations -- all of which they insist are false -- that are coming out of the US media, claiming that the Syrian village of Tal Abyad was being used to host nuclear weapons from North Korea. Other US media reports say that the Israeli jets hit a shipment of arms bound from Iran to Hizbullah in South Lebanon. In an interview with CBS, President Bashar Al-Assad insisted that Hizbullah does not receive arms from the Syrians. The Syrians have long been saying that they are not interested in nuclear weapons, and never miss an opportunity to call for a nuclear-free Middle East that applies -- first and foremost -- to Israel.
The only countries to condemn the Israeli attack were (not surprisingly) Russia, Iran, Turkey -- and North Korea, which came out with a harsh statement at the Israeli aggression. All of America's allies in the region, however, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon responded with a chilly "no comment". There was no condemnation and no solidarity from the Arab front, unlike other similar cases of Israeli aggression in 2001 and 2003. Major Arab satellite channels and newspapers (all funded by or close to the Saudis) even adopted a stance one step short of holding the Syrians responsible for the Israeli act. The reasons are clear; increased Syrian-Saudi tension over the upcoming presidential race in Lebanon, the state of affairs in Iraq, and Syria's friendship with Iran. The Arab street, however, remains overwhelmingly supportive of Syria, especially when it comes to confrontation with Israel. This was made loud and clear by the Syrian media. The Arab League issued a strong yet powerless condemnation claiming that the Israeli intrusion was "unacceptable".
With regard to claims that Syria was hosting Korean weapons, they were mainly fabricated by American journalists, think-tanks in the US, and a variety of US officials. Many of them were immediately echoed in the Israeli press. Many columnists in the US media grabbed at this statement, claiming that Kim Jong-Il might be hiding material in Syria, while pretending to rid his country of nuclear weapons, in order to improve relations with the US for the sake of economic aid. The Washington Post said that three days before the attack, a ship carrying North Korean material labelled as cement had dispatched its cargo in Syria.
The Israelis trumpeted the story from a different angle. They said that Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, had presented Ehud Olmert with evidence that Syria was seeking to purchase nuclear weapons from North Korea. He feared that nuclear devices could be installed on North Korean Scud-C missiles. Dagan said: "we've known for a long time that Syria has deadly warheads on its Scuds. Israel can't live with a nuclear warhead." Apparently, only Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were informed of the attack, in addition to Olmert. So were the Americans. Newsweek quoted an anonymous former US official saying that Israeli sources showed aerial photographs to US officials in Washington, claiming that they were part of a North Korea-backed nuclear project in Syria.
In 2004, then under-secretary for arms control John Bolton accused Syria of harbouring nuclear ambitions. David Albright, a former weapons inspector to Iraq, said that Bolton's accusations prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate Syria's activity. The IAEA gave Damascus a clear bill of health. IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei commented on the matter on 26 June, 2004 saying: "the Syrians told me they would be happy if we verify whatever we need to verify." There was nothing, of course. Speaking to Newsweek after leaving office, Bolton admitted that he had no proof whatsoever of North Korea sharing nuclear technology with Syria. His faulty information had been obtained from the CIA, which reported to Congress that, "it viewed Syria's nuclear intentions with growing concern." After the current crisis, Bolton repeated similar claims against Syria, accusing it of being a member of the "junior axis of evil" that was working to develop its nuclear programme with help from North Korea. Bolton's track record -- and the fact that he had given false information on the very same subject back in 2004 -- leaves him with no credibility whatsoever to repeat similar claims against the Syrians. El-Baradei noted, "this is something I read in the paper. Nobody came to us with any information [about Syria]."
With regard to the accusation that the attack targeted a shipment of Iranian arms bound for Lebanon, that also is highly questionable. If the Israelis had any proof of that, they would have made it headline news, taken photographs of the wreckage and shown them on CNN. The fact that they had no footage -- and were incredibly silent about the entire ordeal -- means that they were embarrassed about something. They went into Syria, with a target in mind, and either did not find it or found something completely different that made them look silly in the international community. States after all are bound by the UN Charter. They are not supposed to violate their neighbour's airspace unless they have very convincing evidence that they can display to the entire world, justifying their actions. The Israelis did not have that. When one intrudes into another country's airspace, with no valid reason, then this is considered an act of aggression. It gives Syria the right to strike back. Bashar Al-Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, told the BBC Arabic service: "The Syrian response is yet to come." His colleague in Washington, Ambassador Emad Mustafa, added, "Israel will not be permitted to do whatever it wants without paying a price." Nobody can blame the Syrians if they strike back. It was the Israelis who escalated the crisis, not Damascus.