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Is Syria Next?

The recent allegation by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that Syria is smuggling war materiel into Iraq raises the ominous prospect that America's attention will turn toward Damascus the moment it is finished with Baghdad.

Rumsfeld's charge--vehemently denied by Syria--now tops a long list of unresolved issues in Syria's relations with the US: Syria's open-ended military intervention in Lebanon and continued support of Hezbollah there; its supposed involvement in the 1982 suicide attack in Beirut that killed 241 US Marines; its continued support of various "outlawed" Palestinian groups; and its allegedly growing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Indeed, Syria has long been included on the US State Department's list of nations that support terrorism.

For these reasons, Syria could well become a potential target for American military adventurism. Even before the onset of the current hostilities, the possibility was raised by certain members of the Bush Administration, such as Richard Perle, and conservative media commentators, all of whom would gladly add Syria to the "Axis of Evil."

Recognizing this possibility, the Syrian regime has made clear its opposition to the American war in Iraq, which has been branded by President Bashir Assad and other senior officials as "a war of aggression". Top-level thinking about the risks that Syria runs were recently made clear in an interview that President Assad gave to a Lebanese newspaper.