By Elias Samo for SCF – “Washington lacks a clear strategy in Syria,“ those were the recent words of Robert Ford, the last American ambassador to Syria who served prior to and during the first few years of the Syrian uprising from 2010 to 2014. A man of Ford’s intricate knowledge of the Syrian-American political dynamic is surely knowledgeable enough to assess America’s policy towards Syria. He goes on to say, “It is hard to explain the fundamental American mission in Syria… Is it to fight Daesh? Or is it to help promote a Kurdish autonomous district in Northeastern Syria… Or is it to resist Iranian encroachment?” It is partially all three; however, oddly enough, Mr. Ford avoids the obvious top priority and strategic rationale for America’s involvement in Syria: The Protection of Israel.
To alleviate this dereliction by the executive branch for not presenting a clear strategy in Syria, as the former ambassador asserts, the Congress took it upon itself to identify American strategic interests in Syria and make recommendations to Trump. However, it is legitimate to ask: what do American congressmen know about Syria to qualify them to determine American strategic interests in the country? It is very unlikely for American congressmen to know much about Syria; they are told the Israeli narrative and that is all they need to know.
Irrespective of who or what motivated the congressmen to seek information to develop a framework for American strategic interests in Syria and eventually send a letter signed by nearly four hundred congressmen, roughly seventy five percent of the total number of congressmen from both chambers and both parties, to the president about their findings and their recommendations, the congressmen called upon United States Institute of Peace (USIP) to establish a Syria Study Group (SSG) to provide them information about Syria to comprehend the situation and formulate recommendations to Trump.
The SSG was established in February 2019 and gave its interim report to Congress on May 1, 2019; the report consists of seven detailed, single-spaced, typewritten pages.
Subsequent to the SSG submitting its interim report to Congress on May 1, the four hundred congressmen’s letter was sent to the president on May 20. It would be natural to assume that the letter is a condensed reflection of what the interim report contained and recommended; that was not the case. The elaborate and detailed interim report dealt with a multitude of issues centered around American national security. Ironically, the letter to the President focused on the sources of threats to Israeli security: terrorism, Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Just a note regarding the difference in emphasis in the two documents. In the seven-page single-spaced interim report Israel is mentioned 9 times, and it is mentioned 21 times in the two-page letter.
The first paragraph of the letter states “[…] we recommend several specific steps to advance our regional security priorities, including assisting our ally, Israel, in defending itself in the face of growing threats, including on its northern border.” The reference to the northern border is about Syria and Lebanon. As for Syria, it is sufficient to note that Israel occupied the Syrian Golan fifty-two years ago and annexed it recently with Trump’s blessings. Syria has not fired a shot at Israel in decades while Israel has fired hundreds of shots at Syria just recently; there are no Syrian boots on the ground in Israel, while there are Israeli boots on the ground in Syria. So much for the threat to Israel emanating from Syria. As for the Lebanese scenario, it is similar to that of Syria, albeit on a smaller scale, with one addition: Hezbollah which Israel views as a source of imminent threat. However, it suffices to note that it is Israel which has been the source of violent onslaughts against Hezbollah. The letter, in the succeeding paragraphs, elaborates further on the acquisition of large and more threatening sophisticated weapons by Syria and Hezbollah to threaten the security of the regional, nuclear superpower: Israel. Need one point out the ridicule?
In the third paragraph, the letter asserts: “While our nation has encouraged more stable and inclusive political systems in the Middle East, the regime in Tehran has spread its influence and destabilized its neighbors for its own gain.” To say this is an outrageous distortion of the truth would be an understatement. There is not a sane Iraqi, Syrian, Lybian, Yemeni and most Muslim Arabs who would vouch to such a distortion. In fact, internationally, the US and Israel are viewed as sources of threats to international peace and security; both have boots on foreign grounds but no foreign boots on their grounds.
Russia receives a jab at the fourth paragraph for its role “[…] to ensure the survival of the Assad regime.” It adds “Furthermore, in providing Damascus with advanced weapons like the S-300 anti-aircraft system, Moscow is complicating Israel’s ability to defend itself from hostile action emanating from Syria.”
The last part of the Letter contains three recommendations which are interrelated and converge on the core of the Letter; the security of Israel:
- Underscore Israel’s right to self-defense.
- Increase pressure on Iran and Russia with respect to activities in Syria.
- Increase pressure on Hezbollah.
Beyond any conceivable doubt, the letter was dictated by Israelis or their advocates in Washington, signed and submitted by 400 congressmen to Trump; the zenith of hypocrisy. What is dismaying is that hardly any voices of protests were raised in the American society at large or the political or intellectual segments about the fact that 400 hundred congressmen, who are elected by Americans to serve American interests, at a time when the US is bogged down in the Arab region, sign and submit a letter to the US President concerned almost exclusively with Israeli security.
These congressmen had an opportunity to make a coherent recommendation on US policy in the Arab region in the accordance with American national interests but instead chose to make recommendations to safeguard the wellbeing and security of a foreign state: Israel.