Tuesday, August 21

First open the checkbook

Yesterday Senator Joe Lieberman called for US action in response to the use of Damascus International Airport as a transit hub for terrorists. Terrorists entering Iraq from Syria is an old story; what's new is willingness to use Congress for action on the situation. I don't think that's the way to go.

The US is fighting a war in a region where we've been very hostile to two countries bordering the war zone. Pundita is of the mind that the top priority is to win the war, and for that we need all the help we can get.

Right now Syria's government is overwhelmed with looking after refugees from Iraq. So I would try offering Syria considerable help in exchange for vigilance with foreign travelers.

When it comes to asking Iran and Syria for help with Iraq, I see too much halfhearted trying from the US, then waving of hands and saying, 'See, they won't deal.' Try harder.

Also, Lieberman's approach overlooks improving relations between Washington and Paris. France and Syria have good relations, so I think the US Department of State should ask their French counterpart if they can do quiet diplomacy on the transit issue. For that reason I think the US should put on hold the confrontative approach with Syria.

Here's Lieberman's report and suggestions:
... the U.S. military estimates that between 80% and 90% of suicide attacks in Iraq are perpetrated by foreign fighters, making them the deadliest weapon in al Qaeda's war arsenal. Without them, al Qaeda in Iraq would be critically, perhaps even fatally, weakened.

That is why we now must focus on disrupting this flow of suicide bombers--and that means focusing on Syria, through which up to 80% of the Iraq-bound extremists transit.

Indeed, even terrorists from countries that directly border Iraq travel by land via Syria to Iraq, instead of directly from their home countries, because of the permissive environment for terrorism that the Syrian government has fostered. Syria refuses to tighten its visa regime for individuals transiting its territory. [...]

Coalition forces have spent considerable time and energy trying to tighten Syria's land border with Iraq against terrorist infiltration. But given the length and topography of that border, the success of these efforts is likely to remain uneven at best, particularly without the support of the Damascus regime.

Before al Qaeda's foreign fighters can make their way across the Syrian border into Iraq, however, they must first reach Syria--and the overwhelming majority does so, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, by flying into Damascus International Airport, making the airport the central hub of al Qaeda travel in the Middle East, and the most vulnerable chokepoint in al Qaeda's war against Iraq and the U.S. in Iraq.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad cannot seriously claim that he is incapable of exercising effective control over the main airport in his capital city. Syria is a police state, with sprawling domestic intelligence and security services. The notion that al Qaeda recruits are slipping into and through the Damascus airport unbeknownst to the local Mukhabarat is totally unbelievable.

We in the U.S. government should also begin developing a range of options to consider taking against Damascus International, unless the Syrian government takes appropriate action, and soon.

Responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus International, as long as it remains the main terminal of international terror.

Despite its use by al Qaeda and Hezbollah terrorists, the airport continues to be serviced by many major non-U.S. carriers, including Alitalia, Air France, and British Airways.

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