The Lessons of Lebanon
Iran and Syria sponsor an ominous arms build-up on Israel's northern border.
Jul 1, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 41 • By MICHAEL RUBIN
The tragedy of the situation is that Israel could end Syria's terror sponsorship within one month. After all, four years ago, Turkey forced Syria to do the same. Damascus once played host to Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) leader Abduallah Ocalan, a man responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Turkey. In September 1998, Ankara decided it had had enough. President Suleyman Demiral declared, "We are losing our patience and we retain the right to retaliate against Syria." Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz warned that the Turkish army was "awaiting orders" to attack. Turkey staged military exercises along the Syrian border. The result? Syria caved, expelled Ocalan, and closed down PKK offices. For Damascus, terrorism is a worthwhile policy tool only so long as the regime need not pay a military price.
As scholars such as Daniel Pipes, Efraim Inbar, and Ely Karmon have shown, Turkey's success provides lessons to both Washington and Jerusalem. First, terrorism can be stopped, but those fighting terror must be willing to go to war to eradicate it. Second, terrorism is black and white. Unfortunately, it's a lesson many in the Bush administration do not understand.
Prior to joining the State Department's policy planning staff, Brookings scholar Meghan O'Sullivan argued that the United States should seek a "more nuanced" approach to terrorism, whereby "lesser penalties would apply to lesser levels of state sponsorship." Such nuance is dead wrong, since it implies some terror to be permissible.
Washington (and Jerusalem) should not exculpate state sponsors for the actions of their proxy groups. Just as the key to constraining al Qaeda was toppling the Taliban, the key to constraining groups such as Hezbollah, the PFLP, and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade is a willingness to make their hosts pay the ultimate price.
Terror sponsorship cannot be subject to negotiation. When I taught in Iraq last year, my Baghdad University-trained translators consistently failed to comprehend three words: tolerance, compromise, and debate. Such concepts simply do not exist in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, nor do they in Syria and Iran. When urging dialogue and restraint, Secretary of State Colin Powell must understand that willingness to meet any terrorist demand, no matter how small, only rewards violence and indicates U.S. weakness. Terrorism is not the result of a cycle of violence. Rather, it is a result of too little retaliation.
Michael Rubin is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.