“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident.”
Sherlock Holmes, “Silver Blaze”
Twice in recent times, Syria has suffered grave insults to its sovereignty. First, Israel conducted an air strike on something deep in Syrian territory. Then, more recently, one of the leaders of Hezbollah was killed by a car bomb in Damascus.
In both cases, the response by the Syrian government acted with tremendous restraint. In the case of the air raid, they protested very trivially, then promptly leveled and buried the site of the attack. There was no protest to the UN over the attack, no displaying of innocent civilians killed, no threats of retaliation. It was as if they would prefer to just pretend that the whole thing never happened.
In the case of Imad Mughniyeh, a case of “he who lives by the car bomb dies by the car bomb,” the Syrian response has been positively tepid. No accusations, no arrests, no denunciations, no nothing.
There are, generally, two explanations as to why a nation will not draw attention to such violations of its sovereignty. They can either wish to avoid a confrontation, or wish to not draw too much scrutiny into their activities.
The first explanation tends to be more common among Western democracies. Far, far too many times the US has been told to “not make an issue” or “don’t cause a confrontation” when facing perfidy by other nations. It’s appeasement, plain and simple, and was the hallmark of our foreign policy for far too long — especially during the Carter years. And it’s the one that’s most susceptible to public pressure.
The other explanation is more common among less than democratic states — of which Syria is definitely one.
In the case of the Israeli attack, the explanation I find most plausible is that Syria was doing something at that site that they didn’t want the world to find out about, and Israel thought posed enough of a threat to themselves that they risked a military strike — not only running the chance that Syria would respond militarily, but in the process Israel demonstrated its capabilities against Syria’s defenses most graphically.
The leading scenarios that fit those criteria are that Syria was working on weapons of mass destruction. The circumstantial evidence is not convincing, but certainly compelling — there are ties between Syria and North Korea, and North Korea has been working on nuclear weapons. The best explanation I’ve heard is that the site was not a nuclear weapons research site, but a weapons assembly site. And that is not a happy thought.
Regardless, we may not know for a long time, if ever. Syria and Israel ain’t talking.
On the matter of Mr. Mughniyeh, the most logical explanation I can see for why Syria isn’t making a big deal of his death is that they already know who did it — and don’t have any problems with it. A scenario where they decided that he was too much of a liability — say, he was planning some future moves that Syria saw as dangerous to its own interests — and chose to get rid of him in a way that would send an unmistakable message that his death was no accident fits that scenario quite nicely.
Syria, it must be remembered, is one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism in the world. Organizations that are outlawed in most of the civilized world not only have their headquarters in Damascus, they can be found in the phone books. Their domination of Lebanon — through their proxies in Hezbollah — goes back decades. Their sponsorship of other terrorist groups is legendary.
When they go to this much effort to avoid drawing attention to themselves, that is precisely the time when we should be looking at them most carefully.