What We Knew in October, 2003


October 14: Pentagon official: US may take action against Syria

Pentagon adviser Richard Perle said Tuesday that the recent Israeli attack on an alleged training camp for Palestinian militants in Syria was long overdue and that he would not rule out U.S. military action against the Arab state.

Perle, a close adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, spoke at a Jerusalem conference of conservatives from the United States and Israel.

"President Bush transformed the American approach to terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001, when he said he will not distinguish between terrorists and the states who harbor them," Perle said.

"I was happy to see that Israel has now taken a similar step in responding to acts of terror that originate in Lebanese territory by going to the rulers of Lebanon in Damascus."

Israel has said the training camp it targeted in an Oct. 5 airstrike was used by Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that had carried out a suicide bombing in the Israeli port city of Haifa two days earlier, killing 20 people.

Israel has accused Syria of allowing Palestinian militant groups to train and operate from its territory. The Israeli air strike was the first attack on Syrian soil in three decades.

Perle said he hoped the air strike reflected a new Israeli policy similar to the Bush doctrine.

"We have problems with the Syrians who continue to support terrorism. We have to find a way to get them to stop," Perle later told The Associated Press.

Asked whether this would include possible U.S. military action against Syria, he said: "Everything's possible."

Perle said it would not be difficult to commit forces to Syria despite heavy U.S. troop commitments to Iraq and the Korean peninsula, along with a continued presence in areas such as the Balkans and Liberia.

"Syria is militarily very weak," he said.

Perle stepped down from his position as chair of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board this spring, following allegations that he had used his position with the Pentagon to further business deals in Singapore and the United States. He is still a member of the board.

Perle said that the Bush administration's "road map" to peace between Israel and the Palestinians by 2005 had failed, but that he supported the ideas Bush introduced in a speech on June 24, 2002.

In that speech, Bush outlined his vision for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and called for a change in Palestinian leadership.