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Damascus' Deadly Bargain: Still Feeding Terrorists Into Iraq

At The New Republic, Lee Smith asks, "Why does Syria insist on harboring terrorists?" He does well to answer in a language that is readily accessible to those well outside the professional counterterrorism community.

To better understand Syria's motivations, I visited Abdel Halim Khaddam, Syria's former vice president, in Brussels, where he was leading a meeting of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a Syrian opposition group. Having served under both Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, Khaddam is well-acquainted with the strategic and political exigencies driving the regime's support for terror. "Fighting the Americans in Iraq is very dangerous," he tells me. "But it also makes Bashar popular. Under the banner of resistance, anything is popular."

Thus, it seems the first reason Syria backs these militants is because it wins public acclaim. As is the case in many countries across the Arab world, most Syrians distinguish between terror and resistance. They define the former as violence that hurts Syrians and Syrian interests--such as the Muslim Brotherhood's war against the Syrian state in the late 1970s and early '80s, for example. But resistance is the violence that the Syrian regime makes possible at the expense of other states--from Lebanon to Israel to Iraq--strengthening its position as the self-described "capital of Arab resistance."

For instance, when Hezbollah went to war against Israel in the summer of 2006, it hurt not only Israel but the majority of Lebanese, who were not standing with Hezbollah. But Syria's logistical, financial, and political support for the Islamic resistance burnished Assad's credentials at home, while also earning him respect across the region. If other Arab rulers, like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Saudi king Abdullah Al-Saud, were, in Assad's words, "half-men," the Syrian had shown himself to be a citadel of anti-Zionist, anti-Western resistance, the most popular Arab leader after Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah.

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