Jewish World Review April 3, 2003 / 30 Adar II, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Iraq's only the start --- Syria & Iran are next | Soon - my guess is within a matter of weeks - the Battle of Iraq will be over. Battle, not war. The American defeat of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein can only be understood as an early engagement in a much broader war against the Islamic axis.

This war began in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime. Then it moved on to Iraq, in the same way World War II flowed to Italy from North Africa. But it won't end in Iraq. Baghdad isn't Berlin. The fall of Saddam won't be the end of armed Arab and Islamic fascism any more than the fall of Benito Mussolini brought the defeat of European fascism.

When Saddam goes, American forces will be sandwiched between two enemies. To the east, Iran, a charter member of the Axis of Evil. To the west, Syria, a new volunteer. Both will have to be defeated before this war is over.

On Monday, according to an official Syrian newspaper (there is no other kind), the regime of Bashar Assad raised its hand for next by announcing its decision "to stand by the Iraqi people, who are facing an illegitimate and unjustified invasion."

Assad was pushed into this decision by the Bush doctrine of "for us or against us." Assad can't be for America because his Baathist colleagues would promptly cut off his head. And so he's against. That explains why Syria has recently opened its border to Saddamite recruits heading for the front and why it has been acting as a conduit for Iraqi military resupply.

Syria is an inviting target for the U.S. Taking down the Assad government would rid the Middle East of an aggressive, anti-American fascist regime and also end Syria's occupation of Lebanon. That, in turn, would enable American forces to go after Hezbollah camps in the Bekaa Valley, just as they went after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Not only would that weaken international terrorism, but the U.S. hasn't forgotten that it was Hezbollah that murdered 241 American Marines in Beirut in 1983.

On Monday, Secretary of State Powell took a step toward the Battle of Syria by warning that the Damascus government "bears the responsibility for its choices and for the consequences." The word "consequences" wasn't accidental. It also appears in UN Resolution 1441 as a euphemism for military action.

Still, Assad could get a temporary reprieve. If he does, it will be thanks to Iran. This week, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice publicly called attention to the advanced state of Tehran's nuclear weapons program. Undersecretary of State John Bolton underscored the point, categorizing the Iranian effort as "of equal import" to the North Korean armament push.

If Iran is really as far along as North Korea, there could be nukes in the hands of the ayatollahs within a matter of months - with hundreds of thousands of American and allied troops next door in Iraq. The U.S. has been waiting for the Tehran theocracy to fall of its own internal unpopularity, but American planners can't exercise such patience with a soon-to-be-atomic Iran.

Anyone hoping for an April V-Iraq extravaganza will be disappointed. Beyond Baghdad, the Battle of Iran lies ahead - and the Battle of Syria and Lebanon. Fortunately, these axis dictatorships aren't (currently) more militarily formidable than Iraq. They will fall as Saddam is falling. Only when they are gone will Fifth Ave. be ready for a victory parade.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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