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SYRIA: Did Damascus green-light U.S. attack?

October 29, 2008 |  7:27 am

Syriaraid2

Everyone's still scratching their heads about Sunday's dramatic U.S. attack on a Syrian village five miles from the Iraqi border.

Plenty of unanswered questions remain, like why didn't the Syrians do anything to thwart the Americans, such as launching anti-aircraft batteries deployed along their border?

Ronen Bergman, an Israeli intelligence expert and author of the recent "The Secret War with Iran," speculates that Syria green-lighted the U.S. operation.

In an interview with an Israeli newspaper and in a chat with Britain's Sky News, Bergman cites two senior American officials who he says told him the Americans went after an alleged Al Qaeda leader in Syria only after getting Damascus' OK.

He says the Syrians were at first reluctant to appear to be submitting to U.S. pressure by going after the guy themselves. In the end, they discretely gave the Americans permission to cross their border and hunt him down ...

According to Bergman, Syrians told Washington they wouldn't block their way if commandos entered their country in broad daylight:

"If you want to do this, do it. We are going to give you a corridor and carte blanche. We will not harm your troops. ... The Syrians have invested so much in aerial defences, especially against choppers and the Americans go in in daylight and nothing is being done."

According to U.S. officials, the target of the raid was a man named Abu Ghadiya, an Al Qaeda figure responsible for funneling guns and fighters through Syria and into Iraq. But journalists who reached the site quoted villagers as saying the only people killed were innocent civilians.

Does it make sense that Syria would OK such a dramatic U.S. attack?

There's been a slight thaw in relations between Syria and the U.S. over the last few months. Syria's secular leadership has been fighting radical Islamists for decades.

From a Syrian point of view, why not let the U.S. take care of the region's Abu Ghadiyas?

And as for the timing, it's better for Damascus to let the U.S. finish the job now and blame the Bush administration, whose reputation in the Middle East could hardly get worse, and make a fresh start with the Obama or McCain teams.

-- Borzou Daragahi and Khaled Hijab in Beirut

Photo: A damaged vehicle sits in the area where the raid occurred. Credit: Hussein Malla / Associated Press

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