"I have no information about a strip to separate Syria and Iraq, but I can confirm that US troops have been engaged in combat operations inside Syrian territory for months." This is what an official from the United States State Department told me, in response to a question I asked on rumors of the imminent creation of a separation strip between Iraq and its Western neighbor which will extend 10km wide into Syrian land. With regard to this subject, three scenarios seem to be under discussion.
In the first instance, the US military will create a strip of land to be modeled after that used by Israel in South Lebanon to enable it to wage preemptive strikes against the Lebanese resistance. Supporters of this view see the current relationship between Syria and Iraq resembling the past relationship between Beirut and Tel Aviv. They speak of host centers in Syria that assist Arab fighters to crossing the border and join the resistance against US military presence. As such, they argue, in order to eliminate the resistance, the American military should penetrate into Syria territory, for a distance of 10 km, and eradicate these centers offering logistical support. This perspective is presented as a pre-emptive security measure that doesn”t aim to destabilize Syria, but rather, to abolish support for the fighters.
The second scenario sees a return to the situation in Iraq before the last Gulf War when the country was divided into three zones, the Northern Zone, where Iraqi planes were banned from flying, north of the latitude 36 degrees north, and the Southern Zone, where the regime”s aircraft was also barred from flying, south of the latitude 36 degrees north, and the area in between. In addition to being a no-fly zone, the Southern region was also a no-drive zone for Iraqi government vehicles. Currently, the Pentagon is studying the feasibility of applying a similar plan along the 380 mile-long Iraqi-Syrian border. If this plan were to become reality, it will bring difficulties to the regime in Damascus; it will be trapped between the Occupied Golan Heights in the South, and the US occupied strip in the East. Is this arrangement a clear declaration of US intentions to encircle and destabilize the regime of President Bashar Assad in Syria?
The US government has already held discussions with a number of Arab
governments to look into establishing a corridor or a separation passageway between Syria and Iraq. In this third scenario, according to a senior Arab official, the width of corridor will be less than the 10km proposed in the first instance. This suggestion has benefited from the support of Arab governments, which according to an informed source, are keen to prove to Washington that their citizens are not crossing into Iraq and killing US soldiers. This last proposal, I imagine, is more likely to be accepted, to avoid the other two models: the Iraqi no-fly zone and the Lebanese-Israeli border strip.
If one is to compare the statement from the State Department official, that his country”s military has been active inside Syria for over three months, with the past US statements that indicate the administration”s intention of avoiding military confrontation with Syria, one is bound to conclude that matters are on course for a showdown.
It is impossible for any regime, in Syria or beyond, to accept the new separation strip, for it represents a US occupation of sorts, especially given Israel”s continuing presence in the Golan Heights. This is a clear indication of bad intentions towards Damascus. Will the Assad regime defend itself by drumming up support for the resistance in Iraq to exhaust the US military before it enters Syria? Or will Damascus grudgingly accept the new situation which will undoubtedly harm its powerful image internally and in the region, and empower the country”s opposition.
The proposed border strip is also an Iraqi request, with some of the country”s officials calling upon the US government to set up this separation zone. According to one source, the most recent request was made during the Iraqi visit to Washington DC.
The situation is increasingly complicated across the Near East with
instability in Iraq and troubles in Lebanon that seem to be heading Syria”s way. Some observers judge the new plan for the Syrian-Iraqi border to be yet another proof of US intentions to split up the region and reconstruct according to its wishes, which might be true from an indigenous perspective.
But, from the US administration”s point of vue, it is faced with continuing violence in Iraq and growing evidence that Arab fighters, especially from the Persian Gulf, are crossing the border from Syria and receiving support and finds from inside the country”s borders. This is what propels US troops to enter Syrian territory in pursuit of resistance fighters, following Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld.”s doctrine of pre-emptive action.
Syria”s response to these growing threats was to test two Scud D-type missiles with a range of 700km. The US and Israeli governments reacted by warning Damascus it was" distancing itself. Is this an indication of an intention to truly distance, besiege, and destabilize Syria? It seems events are quickly moving in this direction.
The government in Damascus now finds itself in a critical situation. It needs help from its Arab neighbours, not by sending al Qaeda-style fighters, but by tabling a collective diplomatic initiative to give Syria a breathing space and framework to avoid being in the shooting range of US weapons.