With the bombing of the Palestinian terrorist organizations' training camp near Damascus, Israel has signaled to Syria and others that it has decided to expand the war against terror to states giving asylum and assistance to terrorists and their commanders who harm Israel and its citizens.
The cabinet decided not to link its reprisal for the Haifa suicide bombing on Saturday with Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, this time. The camp that was hit, Ein Saheb, is eight kilometers northwest of Damascus. Its close proximity to the Syrian capital has symbolic significance, but does not require Israeli planes to fly over Damascus. A target like Ein Saheb can be accurately hit by missiles fired at a great distance. The Syrians announced that one person had been injured in the attack, but sources say there has been loss of life as well. A number of hours passed between the attack and Syria's announcement, an indication of its surprise and confusion over the strike.
The casualties were probably not high-ranking officials of the organizations, who live in Damascus. The camp is controlled by Ahmed Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, operating in complete coordination with the Syrian army and whose activists have been involved in terrorist attacks against Israel, including the firing of Katyusha rockets on the Galilee. All the Palestinian terror organizations except Fatah train at the camp, and Iranian instructors are said to appear there occasionally. Syria also hosts other training camps for Palestinian organizations and for Hezbollah, combining training for a number of organizations in one camp in order to ease logistics, which it handles.
The issue of hitting terror targets in Syria came up in Israel before Saturday's devastating suicide attack at Haifa's Maxim restaurant. While Hamas has recently limited its terror activities, Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for the Maxim restaurant attack, has persisted in its efforts to send suicide bombers into Israel, including one attempt in Haifa that was thwarted. From the moment she crossed the border, the suicide bomber clearly had pre-arranged and close assistance from accomplices within Israel, who transported her to the restaurant together with the heavy explosive belt, and then escaped.
Air force helicopters also hit Hamas weapons stores in the wake of the Haifa attack, a move that defense sources explained by responding that the target was the weapons stores and not Hamas leaders.
A few weeks ago, when Hezbollah renewed its activities in the area of Mount Hermon, Israeli air force jets flew low supersonic flights over the Assad family home in Latakia.
On Saturday night, after the Haifa bombing, it became clear that the response would not be directed against Jenin, from which the suicide bomber came. The Arab claim, which made its way to the BBC, that the suicide bomber did not train at Ein Saheb, is ridiculous. The perpetrators of the World Trade Center attacks did not all train in Bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, but this was no reason not to attack the bases in Afghanistan of Al-Qaida, the organization responsible for the attacks.
In attacking the camp in Syria, Israel took into account that all of Washington's diplomatic efforts of the past few months to convince Damascus to withdraw its support from terror organizations had come to nothing, and that economic sanctions had been of no avail. At one point, Damascus reported to the Americans that it had instructed the heads of the Palestinian organizations to leave their headquarters in the Syrian capital, but this was no more than a familiar exercise from days gone by. The leaders of the organizations, including Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah, left Damascus for a few days for Beirut, and later returned.
The failure of American efforts to discourage Syrian support for terror spurred Israel on in its decision to take action. Not only did the fact that Syria is a member of the UN Security Council not affect the decision, but it may have even encouraged it, as a means of highlighting the absurdity of the membership in the Security Council of a country that is involved in direct assistance to terror organizations.
In discussions that preceded the attack, Israel took into account that Syria, as well as other countries affected by the widening of the war against terror, would seek a means of reacting to the steps Israel would take against terrorists operating on its soil. Conventional wisdom states that Syria will avoid a direct military confrontation with Israel, but that those affected by its action might react indirectly against it, for example by firing Katyusha rockets on the Galilee.
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