Across the Bay

Friday, October 17, 2008

Syria and Islamist Terrorism

Hassan Mneimneh's article in The Daily Standard today is well worth reading in full. You will note many points of intersection with arguments I've made here in the past:

Damascus has long epitomized a "nuanced" understanding of Islamist terrorism. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah have earned Syria's endorsement and significant material backing. Similarly, authorities in Damascus have fueled the insurgency in Iraq, a platform championed as praiseworthy "resistance to U.S. occupation." Under the watch of Syria's intelligence services, the most virulent radical jihadist networks have relied on Syria as a thoroughfare through which to channel streams of suicide bombers and other jihadists into Iraq. And while they have vociferously denied official leverage over such networks, Syrian authorities, when exposed, have displayed an astonishing ability to redirect radical jihadists to less conspicuous terrain such as to Northern Lebanon.

Damascus has nurtured jihadism as a bogeyman at home and abroad, an insurance policy against the specter of regime change, and a scapegoat for crimes otherwise traceable to its state security forces.
The Syrian regime perfected its bifurcated approach to Islamist militancy over the course of its decades-long occupation of Lebanon. Groups such as Hezbollah were managed by the dominant Syrian security services. Other factions such as Asbat al-Ansar and the 2000 Dinniyeh group were deemed more useful when employed as proxies from controlled enclaves--Palestinian refugee camps and remote mountain refuges--to be unleashed at key tactical moments. The February 2005 assassination of Syrian rival and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri occurred in an environment saturated with Syrian services, though in the pro-Syrian narrative it was a crime attributed to a jihadist cell.
In the Syrian government's lengthy record of employing radical jihadism, it has deemed the repercussions of this approach counterproductive only when its interests have in turn been targeted. And even then, attacks inside Syria have been intentionally recycled to tighten the regime's grip on Syrian society and to underline Syria's notional role in fighting global terrorism.
And what do all these machinations matter to Washington? Assad and his circle see a possible rapprochement with the United States playing into a new role for the regime: partnership in the war on terror. But Condoleezza Rice, her employees and her successors should remember that as Syria turns the full force of its tyrannical regime on one jihadist enemy, reinserting itself into the frail democracy that is Lebanon, it will continue to nurture Hamas, Hezbollah, and others who are little different. Syria's choice should be simple: an end to support for all terrorism and respect for Lebanon's independence, or America will sit on the sidelines and watch a dictatorship that lived by the sword
die by it.