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Damascus Goes on a Shopping Spree : Money gained from resisting aggression is used to acquire tools of potential aggression

December 09, 1990

What you sow, you may reap. Keep that in mind. The government of Hafez Assad, which for years has made just about everybody's all-world list of terrorist nations, has raked in $1 billion so far from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil states for climbing aboard the anti-Iraq bandwagon. But, as Times Washington correspondent Jim Mann's recent report made clear, the Syrians appear not to be spending the money for schools, clinics or culture.

What they've been shopping for is more in the way of weapons that could be used to intimidate or attack their neighbors, primarily Israel.

On Assad's shopping list are more MIG-29 and SU-24 fighter planes from the Soviet Union, and maybe columns of new tanks from Eastern Europe's cash-hungry former Communist states, at least some of which aren't likely to run an extensive morals check on the buyer.

Assad is also in the market for surface-to-surface missiles. Israel is said to believe that Syria is now the proud owner of Soviet-made Scud-C missiles--courtesy of the obliging North Koreans. It's possible that a Scud-C could hit western Iraq, but with a range of 300 miles, it could certainly land almost anywhere in Israel.

All these possibilities are a result of the Persian Gulf crisis. Until recently Damascus didn't have the cash to buy shoelaces. But the sensible U.S. policy of seeking the widest coalition against Saddam Hussein has produced some less than sensible anomalies. At the top of the list is the specter of Syria allied against a dictator who may not be any less brutal or ambitious than its own Hafez Assad.

From the outset of this crisis, the Israelis have feared their fundamental interests could be compromised as Washington sought to outmaneuver Hussein, whose political poker-playing skills the Israelis never underestimate. Those interests have not been compromised, but the very fact that Syria has gone on a weapons-of-war shopping spree is one holiday message that rightly leaves Jerusalem uneasy.

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