Report: U.S. could target Iran, Syria in stage 3

Thursday, December 11, 2003

The United States is expected to target the regimes in Iran and Syria in the next stage of the war against Islamic insurgents.

A report by the U.S. Institute for Peace has warned that the war that began with Afghanistan and then Iraq could include multiple targets. The most likely targets are Iran and Syria.

The institute, which is under the auspices of Congress and contains leading U.S. analysts, said in the report that Stage 3 of the U.S. war against terrorism would be significantly different from previous phases. The next stage of the war would be challenging, the report said, with targeted regimes more resilient than Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iran and Syria have populations that are more committed to their nations than the people in Afghanistan and Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. The report said U.S. pressure on Damascus and Teheran could increase the determination of those governments and their people.

The report, entitled "Phase Three in the War on Terror," said the United States would not find many terrorist targets for an air or missile attack in either Iran or Syria. This, despite that both countries are on the State Department list of terrorist sponsors.

"Limited bombing would almost certainly fail to disrupt the terrorist infrastructure significantly," the report said. "There is simply too little to bomb. As the U.S. cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 demonstrated, limited attacks usually have a negligible effect on terrorists and can even lead to their lionization. Putting boots on the ground is necessary to root out terrorists, and even then they are more likely to be displaced than destroyed. "

At that point, the United States might decide on a ground invasion of Iran or Syria. The report warned that such a move would encounter significant resistance by the militaries in Damascus and Teheran.

As a result, the United States would require a much larger military force than that used in Iraq. Iran is a much larger state than its Iraqi neighbor and Teheran's military is much more ferocious.

"For Iran, the number of forces needed to occupy Iranian territory would dwarf those required for the Iraq campaign, given the country's large size and the probable hostility of the population," the report, authored by analyst Daniel Byman, said. "The military effort in Syria could be far less massive, but here too occupation would be difficult given the nationalism of the Syrian people."

A U.S. invasion of Syria would require fewer troops than those deployed in the war against Iraq. But the report said Damascus would resist and a U.S. invasion of Syria would damage Washington's interests in the Arab world.

"Although the clerical regime in Teheran is unpopular, and the Baath regime in Damascus is widely scorned, they are not universally loathed as was Hussein's regime," the report said. "Moreover, both countries' populations are highly nationalistic and are likely to unite behind their government in the event of a crisis. U.S. pressure might strengthen the hands of the regimes we oppose."

The report raised the prospect that Iran and Syria would use Hizbullah to strike U.S. interests in the Middle East and other regions. Hizbullah is more lethal than Al Qaida, the report said, with a presence in Asia, Europe and South America. The report did not rule out a Hizbullah attack on the continental United States.

As a result, the United States would be forced to invade Lebanon as well as Syria, the report said. The report cited the heavy Hizbullah presence in Lebanon, where the organization controls the southern portion of the country.

"To have any chance of success, a military effort would require a sustained counter-insurgency effort in Lebanon," the report said. "Israel has tried a military solution to the Hizbullah problem for 20 years, but its efforts only made the group stronger, strengthening its resolve and increasing its political appeal to many Lebanese. Meanwhile, Hizbullah would activate its cells in Asia, Europe, and Latin America and probably unknown cells in the United States -- to strike at Americans worldwide."

The report urged regime change without a military invasion. The institute said Washington has significantly changed the policy of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia toward Al Qaida without hostile U.S. action.

The Peace Institute recommended heavy U.S. pressure on Syria to halt Hizbullah actions. The report said Syria exploits Hizbullah and does not see the Shi'ite group as an ally.

"The Lebanese Hizbullah is best countered indirectly," the report said. "Syria alone has the intelligence on Hizbullah and the forces in Lebanon to shut down the group completely. Hizbullah is a tactical tool for Damascus, not an ideological soulmate. The right combination of carrots and sticks would lead it to crack down on Hizbullah, pushing it to become a relatively tame Lebanese political organization. Pressure on Iran, while less effective, would also help cut Hizbullah's global network and might make it more prone to focus its efforts on Lebanese politics, not anti-American jihad. For both countries, pressure should also include demands that Hizbullah halt its efforts to arm and train Palestinian groups."

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