- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

While the mainstream media fixate on the difficulties Americans and Iraqis face in confronting a murderous insurgency, they have largely ignored a positive story which could have important strategic ramifications for the larger fight against jihadists: the fact that in two key Arab countries, Jordan and Lebanon, political leaders are risking their lives in order to stand up to the terrorist backers who have brought so much misery to the region.

Within the past week, two Sunni Muslim leaders made clear that they won’t be cowed by the likes of Hamas and Tehran’s rogue-state ally, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. One was Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who met President Bush at the White House on Tuesday. During his visit to the United States last week, Mr. Siniora spent much of his time trying to mobilize international pressure to end Damascus’s interference in Lebanon. And the Jordanian government headed by King Abdullah IIlastweekdemanded that Syria and its ally Hamas cease their efforts to use the Hashemite kingdom as a transit point for weapons smuggling.

BothJordanand Lebanon deserve strong backing from Washington in their efforts to fight jihadist efforts to subvert the region. In the case of Lebanon, most remarkably, anti-Syrian forces are receiving support of the United Nations, where Secretary-General Kofi Annan is demanding that Iran and Syria stop funnelling arms to Hezbollah. This is another sign that the vigorous reform efforts of the much-maligned Ambassador John Bolton are achieving results.

On Tuesday, Jordan announced that it had seized a cache of weaponry, including missiles, explosives and automatic weapons, from Hamas operatives that had been smuggled into the country from Syria. Several persons linked to Hamas were arrested, and Jordan called off a visit by Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a senior member of Hamas. On Wednesday, Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit briefed members of parliament about the Hamas arms seizure, telling them that it was not the first time that the organization had attempted to smuggle weapons into Jordan.

For Jordan, it is just the latest sign that it is vulnerable to terrorism. On Nov. 9, Iraqi suicide bombers commanded by Abu Musab Zarqawi’s terror group attacked three hotels in Amman, killing 60 people and wounding more than 100. The Aug. 19, 2005, rocket strike by al Qaeda targetting the Jordanian port of Aqaba which also reached the neighboring Israeli city of Eilat highlighted the fact that Jordan and Israel have a common strategic interest in preventing al Qaeda from gaining a presence in the region. Similarly, the collapse of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, combined with reports that al Qaeda is attempting to set up bases there, has reinforced the idea that Amman and Jerusalem have a common interest in preventing al Qaeda from setting up shop in the region.

Indeed, it is also possible that the growing threat from Iran may cause Jordan to reconsider its traditional policy of neutrality. “My concern is political, not religious,” King Abdullah said in a January 2005 interview with The Middle East Quarterly. “You have these four [Iran, Iraq, if it comes under the sway of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah] who have a strategic objective that could create a major conflict.”

Like King Abdullah, Lebanon’s Mr. Siniora has major problems with the Assad government in Damascus. During his visit to Washington last week, the prime minister emphasized that even though Syrian troops have withdrawn from Lebanon, Syria keeps its intelligence agents inside that country, and that they are exploiting Lebanon’s open society to conduct operations. In a speech to the United Nations on Friday, Mr. Siniora called on Syria to establish relations with Lebanon and said bluntly that the scars left by “the heavy-handed interference in Lebanese domestic affairs by the Syrian security establishment for many years…are not easy to heal.”

If anything, Mr. Annan took an even tougher stance — criticizing Syria and Iran for their continuing efforts to arm Hezbollah. The secretary-general, in collaboration with his special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, called on Tehran and Damascus to persuade Hezbollah to put down its arms and transform itself into a peaceful political party. Mr. Annan singled out Iran by name for its role in supporting Hezbollah, and noted that in February the group received from Syria an illegal shipment of 12 trucks carrying Katyusha rockets and other weapons.

It is heartening to see Arab governments — with the support of the United Nations, of all things — standing up to the Islamofascists.

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