HOPE FOR SYRIA; Congressional Record Vol. 146, No. 29
(Extensions of Remarks - March 15, 2000)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E322-E323]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                             HOPE FOR SYRIA


                           HON. BILL McCOLLUM

                               of florida

                    in the house of representatives

                       Wednesday, March 15, 2000

  Mr. McCOLLUM. Mr. Speaker, since its establishment, Israel has been 
fighting and striving for genuine and lasting peace with its neighbors 
so that it can concentrate on making the desert bloom, and, more 
recently, on developing one of the world's leading centers of high-tech 
industries. Israel is the United States' closest ally in the region, 
and the bulwark of furthering U.S. interests in the region. Little 
wonder that virtually the entire political spectrum in Washington is 
committed to supporting Israel's quest for peace and security.
  However, despite this American commitment, the Middle East is in the 
midst of a crisis emanating from the latest developments in the Peace 
Process advocated by the Clinton Administration. The flagrant absurdity 
of this latest turn of events is an accurate manifestation of the 
Administration's overall policy. For nearly twenty years, the Syrian-
dominated Lebanese Government has been demanding an Israeli withdrawal 
from south Lebanon. Now, when the Israeli Government committed to just 
such a unilateral withdrawal by next July, Beirut and Damascus threaten 
war. ``An Israeli unilateral withdrawal [from south Lebanon] will not 
work. It will lead to another war,'' President Emile Lahoud warned, 
echoing Hafiz al-Assad's position. Why? The Israeli withdrawal from 
Lebanon will remove the primary Syrian point of pressure on Israel to 
accept the extremely disadvantageous ``package deal'' advocated by the 
Clinton Administration.
  The Clinton Administration is pushing Israel and Syria to reach a 
peace agreement by next May. Both countries are under tremendous 
pressure to sign before the U.S. elections. The principles of the 
Israeli-Syrian agreement the Administration is pushing are: (1) a 
complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and south Lebanon; 
(2) enduring and now legitimized Syrian occupation of Lebanon; (3) a 
U.S.-dominated international force in south Lebanon and the Golan 
Heights; and (4) a financial inducement package to both Israel and 
Syria that, by conservative estimates, will exceed $100 billion to be 
dispensed over a few years.
  In its zeal to bring about this package deal, the Clinton 
Administration seems unperturbed by the widespread opposition in Israel 
to any withdrawal from the strategically crucial Golan Heights--
particularly the kind of a total and speedy withdrawal the U.S. is 
trying to bring about. Moreover, the Administration ignores recent 
polls indicating that about two-thirds of the American public are 
against U.S. support for Syria and any form of deployment of troops in 
the Golan or Lebanon. Nor does the Clinton Administration take into 
consideration the significance of the pre-conditions introduced by 
Syria--a demand for an advance Israeli commitment to a full withdrawal 
with U.S. guarantees. This demand is intentionally phrased so as to 
bring about stalling of the peace process because, as Damascus knows 
well, Jerusalem cannot comply with the letter of the demand (even if 
Jerusalem is ready to commit to such a withdrawal) because Israeli law 
requires a referendum for any withdrawal from the Golan.
  Most puzzling, however, is the White House's haste. The question it 
raises has nothing to do with the essence of the Israeli-Syrian 
``package deal''. The Administration's sense of urgency does not make 
sense in the context of the internal dynamics in Syria.
  Syria is in a major crisis. Hafiz al-Assad's health is in a bad 
shape. He is desperate to ensure that his son Bashar succeeds him and 
for the U.S. to provide for both averting the collapse of the Syrian 
economy and the pay-offs to the Syrian elite Bashar must make in order 
not to be toppled. The U.S. is also expected to replace the virtually 
free oil Syria now gets from Iran. By careful analysis, these financial 
requirements amount to $35-50 billion a year. Hafiz al-Assad is willing 
to ``make peace'' in order to ensure this U.S. financial support. He 
also expects the U.S. to legitimize the Syrian occupation of Lebanon 
which will also clear the Syrian drug and counterfeit trade as well as 
the income they provide for the Syrian ruling elite.
  However, the Syrian ruling establishment, which is predominantly 
Allawite (a Shiite people that is a minority in predominantly Sunni 
Syria), is afraid of Bashar. He is young, inexperienced and weak. The 
Syrian elite knows that once Hafiz al-Assad dies, the Syrian Islamists 
and Iran may well rise up, overthrow and slaughter the Allawite elite, 
and establish a Sunni Islamist government in Damascus. If so, Iran and 
an Islamist Syria will then export Islamist subversion and instability 
to all other Arab countries, including such U.S. allies as Egypt, Saudi 
Arabia, and Jordan. Islamist terrorism by such organizations as the 
HizbAllah, HAMAS and Islamic Jihad, all of whom are already sponsored 
by Syria and Iran, would also escalate. The only way to prevent the 
rise of an Iran-dominated Islamist regime in Damascus is by securing a 
strong Allawite-dominated regime--something that Bashar is incapable of 
achieving despite all of his father's desperate grooming. The ongoing 
purges in Syria and Lebanon, as well as the sudden change of the Syrian 
Government, only highlighted Bashar's weakness and insecurity, as well 
as his father's trepidations.
  The Syrian elite is fully aware of the Islamist threat. Indeed, there 
is a major segment within the Syrian Allawite elite led by Dr. Rifat 
al-Assad (Hafiz al-Assad's estranged brother) that is very pragmatic in 
addressing the forthcoming crisis. They believe that the only

[[Page E323]]

chance for the Allawite to remain in power (and thus survive slaughter 
by the Islamists) is by reversing the virtual collapse of the Syrian 
economy. Only an economic upsurge can avert the radicalization of the 
Sunni majority. And only improved relations with the U.S.-led West can 
save the Syrian economy from an impending collapse. Furthermore, Dr. 
Rifat al-Assad believes that a strong alliance between the peoples of 
the Eastern Mediterranean--the Allawites of Syria, the Christian 
Maronites of Lebanon, the Jews of Israel, and the Druze dwelling in all 
three countries--will transform the region into an economic power house 
as the bridge between East and West, as well as the bastion of regional 
stability as the source of prosperity and employment for all. 
Therefore, the Syrian elite led by Dr. Rifat al-Assad appears willing 
to reach agreement with the U.S. and Israel on all major issues in 
return for removing the sanctions and normalization of relations. 
Significantly, the Syrian Allawite elite believes that the alternative 
to such a deal is their slaughter--for them it is literally a life-
saving deal.
  Therefore, the U.S. should assist Dr. Rifat al-Assad and the 
responsible and pragmatic segments of the Syrian elite to come to power 
in a post-Hafiz al-Assad Damascus and begin the process of recovering 
and restoring the economy. Given Syria's crucial geo-strategic posture, 
it is imperative for the entire U.S.-led West to ensure that a pro-
Western, Democratically oriented government--the kind of government Dr. 
Rifat al-Assad is striving for--is established in Damascus. Meanwhile, 
the U.S. and Israel should wait until the government of Dr. Rifat al-
Assad redirects Syria's national policies and priorities, proves its 
commitment to policies of moderation and compromises, as well as 
economic reforms. Once stable, this Syrian government will be capable 
of making long-term commitments. Only then it would be possible for 
both Israel and Syria to reach enduring and genuine peace for the sake 
of peace. This kind of peace the U.S. should, and will, support.