- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

So is Syria "next"? Not yet, anyway. But with Secretary of State Colin Powell promising a "very vigorous diplomatic exchange" with Damascus, one thing is clear: Syria has some fateful choices to make in the near future.
It can continue to side with terrorists and pay the consequences or it can come clean and start contributing to Middle East peace and stability.
That won't be easy. Syria, after all, stands accused of some serious crimes, such as giving safe haven to Saddam Hussein's acolytes, including Faruq Hijazi, Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia and a key suspect in the 1993 plot to assassinate President George H.W. Bush.
Worse, Damascus has its own weapons of mass destruction and may be harboring Iraqi chemical and biological weapons spirited across the border by Saddam's henchmen to avoid detection by U.N. inspectors and certain discovery by Coalition forces after the war. Syrian strongman Bashar Assad has called these charges "ridiculous." Nevertheless, Syria may decide to add these weapons to its own inventory for use in any future conflict with Israel or employ Iraqi scientists in pursuit of the Syrian bomb.
Damascus also supports the international terrorist groups Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and has been on the State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism" since the list's inception in 1979. Hezbollah killed 241 Marines in Lebanon in 1983 and bombed our embassy in Beirut, killing more than 60. We should be concerned that Syrian or Iraqi weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of these groups or the seven other terrorist groups Damascus reportedly harbors.
Coalition forces have discovered that most of the foreign mercenaries employed by Baghdad are Syrian. At least 20 have been captured so far, but hundreds more are thought to be at large. If that weren't bad enough, it appears Mr. Assad's government was providing night-vision goggles to the Iraqi Republican Guard even after the war began. And it has permitted anti-Coalition forces to use Syria as a gateway into Iraq, including issuing Syrian passports.
Clearly, Mr. Assad supported Saddam's tyranny for some time, violating U.N. sanctions and allowing the Iraqi regime to rake in millions of dollars in kickbacks. He let Saddam illegally truck as much as 140,000 barrels a day of Iraqi oil to Syria for export abroad in violation of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program. Benefit to Saddam: $2 million a day. Intelligence officials also suspect that materiel for Saddam's army and weapons of mass destruction programs came across the Syrian-Iraqi border.
What must Syria do to make amends? First, it must return all members of Saddam's regime to Iraq to be held accountable. Further, Damascus must not allow Iraqi or foreign fighters to operate from Syria against Coalition forces or a free Iraq. It also must account for any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and any dual-use equipment that came into Iraq across its borders. And Damascus also must sever ties with terrorist groups and release its grip on Lebanon, which it has occupied since 1982.
President Assad has shown some signs of cooperation. He ordered the border with Iraq sealed, offered help in locating Iraqi fugitives and ordered airline boarding denied to possible war criminals. He also ordered embassies and consulates to demand visas from Iraqis attempting to enter Syria. "The Syrian government has heard us, and I believe it when they say they want to cooperate with us," President Bush responded.
Still, the United States has several options for encouraging cooperation should it start to flag. We could lengthen the list of economic sanctions Syria already faces as a state sponsor of terrorism. We could bar imports, exports or American investment. We could keep closed the Syrian-Iraqi oil pipeline, which conveyed 70,000 barrels a day to Syria before Coalition forces interrupted the flow late in the war. And we could shut the border to all non-humanitarian travel.
If this doesn't work, we could explore military options, starting with striking Syrian military targets or foreign-fighter encampments to prevent Syria from becoming the operating base for an insurgency against free Iraq. If this fails and diplomacy (such as Mr. Powell's visit, now set for early May) doesn't work, we could undertake large-scale military operations.
We know Syria can do the right thing when it wants to. Damascus supported the 1991 Gulf war and signed onto U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which paved the way for U.N. inspectors to return to Iraq. But today Damascus must choose between joining the Axis of Evil and standing with those who oppose it.
If Syria makes the wrong choice, it should know it may share Iraq's fate.

Peter Brookes, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, is a senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

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