US War On Terror Gets More Complicated - It's A World War On An Ill-Defined Enemy.
NEW YORK - The US on Sept. 11 marked the fifth anniversary of 9/11 with a more nuanced determination to keep pursuing its global war on terrorism. This is No. One Priority for any US president until the conflict has come to conclusion. But the conflict is getting more complicated - it can be called The Third World War - and the enemy still lacks final definition. The enemy is more than the combined two extremes in Islam, the radical wing of Ja'fari Shi'ism and the most fanatic strain in Sunnism whose militants are known as Neo-Salafis. The enemy category includes less fanatic offshoots of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood (MB) - such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine - who are fighting a war against Israeli occupation. They include the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran and its various branches in the Muslim world and a Ba'thist dictatorship in Syria which is secular and has frequently offered a deal with the US.
President George W. Bush on Sept. 11 used the 9/11 attacks to assert that the US was engaged in "a struggle for civilisation" and sought to invoke a sense of national purpose in making his case anew for seeing through the war in Iraq. He said: "The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad" (see sbme3-IraqSetback-Sep18-06).
Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite turned Sunni to be president, used the occasion on Sept. 12 as a Neo-Salafi group staged an attack on the American Embassy in Damascus - near the presidential palace. The event got full play in the world media, with CNN covering it extensively and pan-Arab TV networks borrowing from the US cable news channel scenes of the attack by four Neo-Salafi militants.
In this, Assad is playing with the two fires of Islamic radicalism. On the one hand, he holds the card of Hizbullah, a radical Shi'ite guerrilla force in Lebanon still trying to "resist the Israeli occupation of Sheb'a Farms" - a small piece of Lebanese territory in the south of the country taken by Israel during its June 1967 war to capture the Golan Heights, a much bigger part of "Greater Syria" which Israel annexed in the early 1980s.
On the other hand, Assad holds the Neo-Salafi card against the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and against Sunni Arab regimes allied to the US - Israel's main ally. A warning to Assad's regime to that effect was made on Sept. 11 by al-Qaeda's No. 2, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, a Neo-Salafi ideologue who said all those states and groups that accepted UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1701 for Lebanon were in fact "scheming with the Zionist enemy" (Israel) in sealing Lebanon's border with the Jewish state.
Zawahiri was alluding partly to Hizbullah, Syria and Iran and to the pro-US Arab regimes, and partly to all EU and other powers now contributing to a 15,000-strong UN force being stationed in south Lebanon. The southern Lebanese border is also having a 15,000-strong part of Lebanon's Army. These forces are, in effect, sealing Lebanon's border with Israel - just as Syria's Golan front has been sealed since the 1974 military "disengagement" pact reached by Assad's late father, Gen. Hafez, and his Israeli counterpart in a deal brokered by then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Having lost the Lebanon card in 2005, Assad faces potentially explosive situations in Syria and Lebanon. By end-September, a UN commission probing the murder of top Lebanese politicians will have submitted a report to the UNSC; Assad is said to lead the suspects. Assad wants whatever cards he has left - plus the two fires of Islam - to help him prevent the UNSC from forming a tribunal to try the Lebanese murders. With a corrupt regime, Syria's economy is in bad shape and unemployment is high (see news11-Syria-Sept11-06).
Whether or not Assad's secret service facilitated the Neo-Salafi attack on the American embassy near his palace is less important than the fact that it did happen near his palace. Bashar al-Assad, the opposite of the "genius father" he had, has broken records in leaping from one blunder to another. He simply hates having lost Lebanon, which used to be a "treasure for Maher's mafia". The presidential palace in Damascus is occupied by an "impossible triangle": Bashar, his brother Maher and their brother-in-law Assef Shawkat - who share a mutual hatred. Members of the Hariri family in Lebanon call them a "murderous Alawite clan". Assad's message behind the Sept. 12 US embassy battle in Damascus was that it could also happen in Lebanon.
Still, White House press secretary Tony Snow said: "The US government is grateful for the assistance the Syrians provided". The four militants and one Syrian guard were killed in the attack. No Americans were hurt, though a Syrian guard employed by the embassy was wounded. A Syrian government guard was in serious condition. Syrian Ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa told CNN the attackers were from Tanzim Jund al-Sham, a Neo-Salafi group which shares much of al-Qaeda's ideology. In recent months, a number of members of Assad's regime and former US officials have been quietly urging Washington to reach out to Damascus, saying it might be possible to drive a wedge between Assad and his Shi'ite, Iran and Hizbullah.
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Sep 18, 2006|
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