Analysis / Finger-pointing as Policy

Pointing the finger at Syria and/or Hezbollah for the weekend terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv conveniently moves the Israeli-Palestinian dispute beyond its local dimension - and is far from being an Israeli invention.

Arab regimes often do it when they blame Al-Qaida or Iran or other "external" groups for terrorist attacks; the U.S. blames Iran and Syria for involvement in Iraqi terrorism and Russia prefers to blame external "Islamic terrorists" for terror in Chechnya or terror attacks conducted in Russia by Chechens.

The question is to what extent is Syria directly responsible for the execution of the terror attack? Is it only because it hosts Islamic Jihad and the other rejectionist groups on its territory, or is there firm proof that it ordered the attack or paid for it?

The publicly known facts are that in the last year Syria has been helping the political process by allowing the rejectionist camp's leaders go to Egypt to conduct negotiations for a cease-fire and that it did not torpedo the cease-fire when it was signed the first time last summer and again three weeks ago. It hosted Abu Mazen with respect when he was elected Palestinian prime minister and in effect extended de facto recognition to the Palestinian Authority, even though it is a "creation of the Oslo Accords," as Syria used to say.

On another plane, Syria has been making clear for the last two years that it is interested in renewing the negotiations with Israel and it maintains good relations with Turkey, Israel's defense and civilian ally in the region.

The relationship between Syria and Hezbollah and the Palestinian organizations proves that Syria can block terrorist activity but does not necessarily have complete and precise control over every action those groups take.

There is also a difference between Damascus' maneuverability toward Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups. Hezbollah needs Syria as a way station for the movement of both weapons and people. On occasion, Hezbollah interprets Syrian interests as it sees fit and acts on those interpretations. That's one of the reasons the group is so vociferously denying its involvement in the Tel Aviv bombing, knowing that Israel will try to harm Syria because of its connection to the organization.

The logic behind Hezbollah's thinking also derives from the complex situation the organization faces in Lebanon, which is not prepared to tolerate involvement in a front that is not purely Lebanese.

The Palestinians groups, on the other hand, operate on two fronts. They must protect their place in Damascus as the last refuge they have available to them, and therefore agreed to the cease-fire, and they are preparing to take part in the political arena in the PA, particularly the parliamentary elections slated for July. A terror attack, therefore, is a double-edged sword for them - it can make clear to the PA that the organizations have the ability to torpedo its moves, but it could also draw international pressure on Syria to evict them.

However, Hamas and Islamic Jihad commands in Damascus cannot always control or even direct the organizations in the territories. There used to be bitter arguments between Khaled Meshal in Damscus and Ahmed Yassin in Gaza, just as there are disputes between the Islamic Jihad's leader, Ramadan Shalah, and some of the group's leaders in Gaza. Thus, just as there are elements in the Fatah that are not happy with the PA's activities, so there are elements in the other groups that are not happy with the cease-fire agreement.