Courtesy Reuters

The Syrian Sphinx

Syria's outrage over Israel's air attack on an alleged terrorist training facility near Damascus cannot be taken too seriously. The notion of sovereignty has not prevented Syria from hosting Palestinian groups, whose goal is not only to violate Israel's sovereignty but to eliminate it entirely. So the questions raised by Israel's unprecedented bombing of Syrian territory are political, not legal.

Foremost is the practical question of whether the assault on this camp will prevent the Islamic Jihad, which took credit for the October 4 suicide bombing in Haifa that prompted the raid, from assaulting Israeli civilians again. The answer is absolutely not. Even if every Palestinian terrorist were thrown out of Syria, the capacity of Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the Martyrs Brigades to do their bloody work would remain unaffected.

It is worth asking, therefore, why Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would take an action that has no effect on the terrorists but that ends a thirty-year truce between Syria and Israel. Syria could now launch crossborder attacks against Israel, either directly or through proxies such as Hezbollah, and rightfully blame Israel for having set the precedent by breaking an agreement that Syria had been honoring. While Syria is in no position to launch a full-scale war against Israel, it could cause mischief that would make life very unpleasant for Israelis living in northern Israel--a problem the Sharon government surely does not need in addition to its other current troubles.

Some argue that a retaliation by Syria may be exactly what Sharon intended to provoke. The neo-con ideologues in Washington may even welcome one, for it would provide them--and Israel--with a convenient pretext for taking even more serious measures against a country that has long been on their hit list.

Others believe that Sharon had to do something to quell Israeli outrage over the brutal Haifa bombing, which killed twenty people, including two entire families. The usual target for Sharon's retaliations is Yasser Arafat. Although there was no evidence to connect Arafat to

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