Syria's Fate

So is Syria next?

Probably not. But with Secretary of State Colin Powell promising a "very vigorous diplomatic exchange" with Damascus, one thing's 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.

And coming clean won't be easy. Syria, after all, stands accused of some serious crimes, such as giving safe haven to the likes of "Dr. Germ" and "Mrs. Anthrax," Saddam Hussein acolytes on the run for their involvement in Iraq's biological weapons programs.

And they aren't the only members of Saddam's regime who have fled to Syria. Also reportedly skulking in Syria is 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. 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. We should be very concerned that Syrian or Iraqi weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of these terrorist groups.

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 that Syrian President Bashar 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.

Clearly, 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 weapons for Saddam's army and dual-use technology that could aid his 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 for their actions against the Iraqi people. 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 it must sever ties with terrorist groups.

The United States has several options for coaxing these behaviors from Syria. (And no, the list doesn't start with the 82nd Airborne.) First, we should continue pressing for "full cooperation." (Having the U.S. military next door can certainly help pressure the Assad regime to do the right thing.) Next, Washington could lower the level of diplomatic representation by bringing our ambassador home and sending Syria's envoy back to Damascus.

We should also consider economic sanctions. As a state sponsor of terrorism, Syria is already under some sanctions, but we could impose more — barring imports and exports or American investment. The Syrian-Iraqi oil pipeline, which conveys 70,000 barrels a day to Syria, could be shut down permanently and the border closed to all non-humanitarian travel.

If Damascus proves hard to persuade, we could make punitive strikes against Syrian military targets or foreign fighter encampments in Syria. This would certainly help prevent the country from become the operating base for an insurgency against the new Iraqi government. If all else fails and diplomacy (such as the impending visit by Powell) has run its course, then 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 make a fundamental choice between joining the Axis of Evil and standing with those who oppose it.

If Syria makes the wrong choice, Damascus must be aware that it may also share Baghdad'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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