The Road Map to Damascus

Israel's air raid on an alleged terrorist camp in Syria has, for the first time, directly linked Israel's conflict with the Palestinians to the US strategy to stop Arab and Iranian leaders from backing terrorism.

After the Iraq war, the United States strongly warned Syria against harboring Iraqis linked to Saddam Hussein. The US also contends Syria is developing weapons of mass destruction, forcing the US to keep "every tool" (i.e., preemptive attack) as an option in dealing with Damascus.

Now Israel's attack has also warned Syria that it must expel any Palestinian providing support for suicide bombers in Israel. Sunday's raid was in response to a suicide bombing in Haifa that killed 19 and was claimed by the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, which allegedly has leaders in Syria.

Both the Iraq war and Sunday's raid are diplomacy by smackdown. Such use of force is, in theory, aimed at forcing the region's despots to end moral, financial, or logistical support for attacks on US or Israeli civilians.

But will it work? Even President Bush may not be sure. He approved of Israel's right to defend itself in the raid, but asked Israel to "avoid escalation and creating higher tensions."

If Israel does adopt the Bush doctrine of using preemption and forcing regimes to change behavior, it does risk escalation. It would be far better for Israel to quickly make peace with the Palestinians.

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