March 15, 2000 - Issue: Vol. 146, No. 29 — Daily Edition106th Congress (1999 - 2000) - 2nd Session
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. ____________________