Syria likes to provoke the United States. Its president, Bashar al-Assad, apparently has calculated that the bigger a nuisance he makes of himself the higher a price the United States eventually will pay to buy him off. So he lines up with Iran, uses murder as his main political tool, sponsors a dozen terrorist groups, and shuttles al-Qaeda volunteers into Iraq, while protesting that he could be really quite helpful if given the recognition, money, and power he craves. Far too many people in Washington and the European capitals — Paris, especially — believe that Assad’s price is right.
It must have come as a shock to Assad that, after years of dithering in the face of provocation, the United States decided it had had enough and, in a short, sharp operation, dispatched commandos from Iraq to a village a few miles into Syria. They were probably after a couple of key figures: one of them the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who has been seeking refuge in Syria, the other an organizer who had been supervising the infiltration of al-Qaeda operatives across the undemarcated desert border. It is estimated that nine in ten foreign fighters in Iraq have entered via this route. Those numbers have dwindled lately, but the time has come to close down this rat-line altogether.
Not long ago, the Israelis mounted a rather similar operation to destroy what seems to have been the beginning of a nuclear-weapons program, calling the bluff on Assad’s customary policy of raising the stakes to discover how much he can gain. Syria calls the raid a “terrorist aggression” and a “war crime” — a bit much from a regime that happens to be financing and arming real terrorist aggression against Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon, and possibly further afield, too. A military official in Washington sums it up: “We are taking matters into our own hands.” Better late than never.