New York Times OP-ED A31
December 1, 2000
Clinton's Syria Memo
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Memo to: Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria
From: Bill Clinton
Since I will be leaving office soon, time is short, and I need to be blunt. I think you're playing with fire and are perilously close to making the biggest mistake of your short political life. I'm talking about Shabaa Farms. I told my National Security Council staff yesterday that whoever my successor is needs to know that the most dangerous spot in the world today, the most likely stage for a big war, is not the Taiwan Strait, not the DMZ between North and South Korea, not Kashmir. It's Shabaa Farms.
You know what I'm talking about. Israel unilaterally withdrew all its troops from Lebanon last spring in accordance with U.N. Resolution 425.
The Lebanon-Israel boundary line Israel withdrew to was personally certified by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. And the U.N. stated clearly that Shabaa Farms this little stretch of frontier at the intersection of the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian borders was part of the Syrian Golan Heights, now occupied by Israel. Therefore, it should not have been returned to Lebanon by Israel, but should be returned to Syria as part of any Israeli-Syrian Golan peace deal. Despite that U.N. verdict, you have encouraged the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, to keep launching raids against Israel at Shabaa Farms, claiming it's Lebanese territory, even though your official maps always showed it as part of Syria.
Bashar, I know you're taking advice from your dad's old adviser Farouk Sharaa, from your tutor from the General Intelligence Directorate, Bahajat Suleiman, and from your brother-in-law, Gen. Asef Shawkat, who all believe that the only way to get the Israelis to do a deal on the Golan, on Syria's terms, is to keep bleeding them from Lebanon. And I also know that you think you're actually behaving in a very controlled fashion. You've told the Palestinians in Lebanon they're not allowed to operate in the border area, so they don't do something crazy. And you've told Hezbollah that all their attacks must be confined to Shabaa Farms. And Hezbollah is very disciplined. I even noticed at the Cairo Arab summit you publicly used the word "Israel," which your father never liked to do, and you referred directly to Prime Minister Ehud Barak. I'm not deaf. I know you think you're signaling Barak, in your brutal Syrian way, that you want to resume negotiations. But you are using totally unstable chemicals. And if one of these Hezbollah raiding parties somehow slips through Shabaa Farms and into northern Israel, Israel will not let you change the rules of the game and move the war from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.
Here's what the Israelis told me they would do in response: Israel will attack every Syrian tank and missile battery inside Lebanon. But in order to do that Israeli jets will also have to destroy the Syrian radar and missile batteries just inside Syria that also cover Lebanese airspace. That means a Middle East war. Goodbye, Syria. Goodbye, Nasdaq. Hello, oil crisis.
Bashar, did your late father ever
tell you what Barak did last year? One night, it was about 3 a.m., Israeli F-15 fighter
jets, using Israeli-designed electronic countermeasures and laser-guided smart rockets,
flew into Lebanon in the dark of night and blew up 10 tanks belonging to your Palestinian
guerrilla pal Ahmed Jabril. Do you know how many rockets the Israeli jets fired in the
dark to knock out those 10 tanks? Eleven. Do you know how accurate that is? You couldn't
score that high in Nintendo.
I know you think the Israelis have gone soft, Bashar, but you could be dead wrong. Barak is in a tense political battle. Many Israeli generals believe Israel's deterrence capability has been badly eroded and they may need to put on a real sound and light show that will demonstrate to the whole region just how sophisticated its air force has become.
You could suffer a huge blow. And with you now moving closer to Iraq reopening the Iraqi oil pipeline through Syria, renewing trade with and flights to Baghdad and holding secret discussions with Saddam Hussein about Iraqi backing for Syria in the event of an Israeli attack neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore will protect you.
Bashar, your dad was a master at manipulating people around him. Be careful that you don't become the puppet of your father's puppets. It will end badly for you, and even worse for Syria.