Sanctioning Syria: The Long Road to Damascus

In 1996, an Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, prepared “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm” for incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In that seminal report, the Richard Perle-led study group suggested that Israel could “shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria.” Comprised mainly of American-based pro-Israel advocates, the group stressed, “Most important, it is understandable that Israel has an interest supporting diplomatically, militarily and operationally Turkey’s and Jordan’s actions against Syria, such as securing tribal alliances with Arab tribes that cross into Syrian territory and are hostile to the Syrian ruling elite.”

Richard Perle
Richard Perle

Although Netanyahu didn’t act on their advice at the time, Perle and two of his co-authors, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser, found George W. Bush more receptive to “securing the realm” – for Israel – after September 11, 2001. Nine days after that “catastrophic and catalyzing event,” Perle signed a Project for a New American Century letter to President Bush, urging the United States to “consider appropriate measures of retaliation” against Iran and Syria if they didn’t “immediately cease all military, financial, and political support for Hezbollah” – whose presumably unforgivable crime was that it had “humiliated Israel by driving its army out of Lebanon.” Explaining the Bush administration’s subsequent decision to invade Iraq in 2003, Patrick Buchanan famously wrote in The American Conservative, “In the Perle-Feith-Wurmser strategy, Israel’s enemy remains Syria, but the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad.”

Notwithstanding Syria’s initial cooperation with the Israeli-inspired but American-fought “war on terror,” the Israel lobby ensured that there would be no long-term rapprochement between Washington and Damascus. A September 5, 2002 document, “Working to Secure Israel: The Pro-Israel Community’s Legislative Goals,” declared AIPAC’s intention to “sanction Syria for its continuing support of terrorism” by working “with Congress to pass the Syria Accountability Act.”

In October 2003, Representative Eliot Engel, who sponsored the legislation, proudly reported the bill’s imminent passage to the inaugural Jerusalem Summit, organized by Ariel Sharon’s government and its diehard American supporters (including the ubiquitous Perle) “to work out a joint strategy of resistance to the Totalitarianism of the Radical Islam, and to the moral relativism which in vain tries to placate this Totalitarianism by sacrificing Israel.” Confusing the ultimate target of the AIPAC-crafted legislation with Israel’s more southerly bête noire, the Jewish Democrat from New York informed the summit, “It’s no secret that the people on Lebanon’s southern border, the terrorists, Hamas, are wrecking [sic] havoc and causing all kinds of destruction and could be stopped tomorrow if Syria wanted it. This is Hamas, the group which blew up over 200 US marines. This is the group that goes out not only to destroy Israel, but would destroy the United States as well.”

With Iraq proving to be less of a “cakewalk” than America’s pro-Israel warmongers had breezily predicted, Syria managed to survive two Bush terms. The failure of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon to dislodge Hezbollah, however, added significantly to the impetus for regime change in Damascus. When Israel’s friends in Washington concluded that the Syrian corridor to Iran was “Hezbollah’s Achilles heel,” Bashar al-Assad’s days were increasingly numbered. The Arab uprisings of 2011 provided them with their long-sought opportunity for “rolling back Syria.”

Writing in the Guardian, Alistair Crooke describes how the “great game” of “losing Syria” is currently being played out with the cooperation of the absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the also predominantly Sunni secular Republic of Turkey; and France, arch-promoters of Libya’s NATO-backed “revolution” and Syria’s short-lived former colonial rulers, i.e. “set up a hurried transitional council as sole representative of the Syrian people, irrespective of whether it has any real legs inside Syria; feed in armed insurgents from neighbouring states; impose sanctions that will hurt the middle classes; mount a media campaign to denigrate any Syrian efforts at reform; try to instigate divisions within the army and the elite; and ultimately President Assad will fall.”

Enforcing those AIPAC-endorsed sanctions has been the happy task of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Created in early 2004 after intensive lobbying by AIPAC and its associated think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the TFI unit has been aptly described as “a sharp-edged tool forged principally to serve the Israel lobby.” With David S. Cohen succeeding Stuart Levey as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in January 2011, a leading journalist on the Middle East was later prompted to call the position “a job which seems reserved for pro-Israeli neo-cons to wage economic warfare against Tehran.”

In recent days, Cohen’s TFI unit has been eagerly waging economic warfare against Damascus. Daniel L. Glaser, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, has just completed a tour of Lebanon and Jordan to secure their compliance with economic sanctions against the Assad government. In Beirut, the U.S. Embassy announced that Glaser was pressing the authorities to “remain vigilant against attempts by the Syrian regime to evade U.S. and EU sanctions.”

In a recent policy alert, WINEP’s executive director, Robert Satloff, urged that “with the strategic opportunity of contributing to the demise of Iran’s premier Arab ally, Washington should be working overtime to act in defense of the Syrian people.” Considering the long road to Damascus pursued by Satloff’s fellow-travellers, it should be clear for which country regime change in Syria presents a “strategic opportunity.”

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Maidhc Ó Cathail writes extensively on U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East. He also edits The Passionate Attachment blog ( 

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  • Edward

    I think there is more to this than security for Israel. Why are the US and NATO so suddenly interested in toppling the Syrian government? There is obviously a bigger picture?

    • See numerous posts in our blog for the bigger picture (Just click our name).

      The author here fails to understand that this neocon think-tank was simply trying to use the Israelis as expendable pawns against Syria, by attempting to convince them it somehow had their best interest in mind. It is absurd and misleading to assume the neocons really care about Israeli interests when they’re obviously just pretending to do so. Netanyahu understood this much at the time and wisely chose not to follow thier ill advice.

  • a free bird

    {Netanyahu understood this much at the time and wisely chose not to follow thier ill advice.}

    I don’t know why the libral zionist are trying to fool people. There are thousand of articles explaining why neocons are using US to help Israel.
    Please read the following document to understand why the zionists are trying to FOOL YOU.


    • Edward

      Israel is a very small country. There is far more at stake here than domination or division of the Middle East. What we are seeing now is a four-pronged attack on the people of the world through complete control of the banks, oil, territory and social interaction (organised religion and media)
      If we consider that the attack on Libya was a completely wanton act the picture becomes clear.

  • a free bird

    {What we are seeing now is a four-pronged attack on the people of the world through complete control of the banks, oil, territory and social interaction (organised religion and media}

    The final goal is “WORLD GOVERNMENT” led by bankers, Rothschild family and its extention.
    As Nathan Rothschild said in early 19th century:
    Nathan Rothschild said (1777-1836): “I care not what puppet is placed on the throne of England to rule the Empire. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire and I control the British money supply.”

    We should not forget that Rothschild family created state of Israel in stolen land of Palestine due to their control over the British empire. Britain was a small island with over 10 million people where colonized two big countries China and India in addition to many others.
    Rothschild family became the richest family in the world due to spread of rumor that British forces were defeated at the Waterloo battle, so people rushed and sold their stocks very cheap to control their lost where Rothschild family bought them knowing that the NEWS is fabricated by themselves. So, Rothschild family became the richest family in the world and stayed as such through lie and deception.

    They control empires after empires behind the scene but today many people know this fact.
    As Atzmon wrote: the zionists have brought down the British empire, The French empire and now the American empire.

  • Edward

    If Russia and China back down and allow Syria to be destroyed like Libya we will know then that the world is being controlled by a powerful elite who can command the politicians, police and armies of the world and expect that they will obey. This would be something that never happened before.