Across the Bay

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Syria: Terror Inc.

The list of countries affected by Syrian terror sponsorship had (most recently) included states like Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the US, Germany (and US targets there), Spain, Israel and more. Now add Bahrain to the list (Arabic articles here and here).

The Bahraini (Shiites) who were arrested for plotting to carry out major terror attacks during Bahrain's national holiday on December 17, trained for their operation in Syria, adding further support to the charge that Syria is Terror Grand Central -- consciously using its territory as a safe haven, revolving door, and distribution/reorientation hub for terrorists of all stripes targeting Syria's enemies (which happen to be the US and its allies).

What's interesting about this latest episode is that it involves Shiite terrorists, highlighting how Syria works with terrorists of all stripes, while also further bringing into light the multiple functions of the Iran-funded Shiite centers now proliferating in Syria.

Furthermore, it sheds light on a pillar of the Syrians' 30 year-old strategic alliance with Iran (which some geniuseszzz today believe they can break through "engagement" over the Golan). The Syrian nexus with Khomeinist Shiite terrorism is chronic, dating back to the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution, even prior to the Khomeinist takeover in Iran, all the way to the current intricate and intimate relationship with Hezbollah, whose Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus, where he was staying in a building owned by a business associate of Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf (meaning, he was personally patronized by Assad's inner-most circles).

The nexus also involved Mughniyeh and Hezbollah's training of Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army, whose fighters traveled to and via Syria to be trained by Hezbollah.

One of the essential aspects of the Syria-Iran alliance (which is the farthest thing possible from that ignorant cliche, "marriage of convenience" label), is how it allows Syria, a weak and resourceless Third World country, to blackmail, threaten and intimidate the far richer Gulf states, as well as to target Western enemies as well, thereby allowing Syria to punch well above its weight.

As such, and by way of example, Syria had a direct role in the attacks against the US and France in Beirut in 1983.

Furthermore, Mughniyeh, Hezbollah and Iran, all were directly involved in sabotage in Gulf states with substantial Shiite populations, and were behind groups like the Saudi Hezbollah and the Kuwaiti Hezbollah.

The Kuwaitis provide a recent example of how Syria benefits from Iran's muscle to blackmail and extort weak Gulf states like Kuwait. Earlier this year, around the time of the Arab summit, which was to be held in Syria for the first time, and was being boycotted by most Arab heads of state, the Kuwaiti embassy was threatened by Hezbollah, and other Mughniyeh-related problems surfaced in Kuwait, and lo and behold, Kuwait was one of the handful of Arab states who sent a high-ranking delegation to Syria.

And so, terror sponsorship and the alliance with Iran are not reactive Syrian policies remedied by the return of the Golan Heights. They are proactive policies by a regime whose only way to project influence well above its capacities is through violence, terrorism, intimidation and blackmail, as I emphasized in my most recent article.

This always was the case, as noted by Jubin Goodarzi, and the relationship with Iran afforded Assad possibilities on a number of regional fronts that would enable him to play out his regime's overinflated role conception, self-image and self-importance, and even possibly financing Assad's efforts to acquire a North Korean nuclear reactor (not to mention Russian advanced weaponry. See also the Syrian-Venezuelan-Iranian nexus in that regard). Michael Rubin recently discussed a variant angle of this function of the alliance, with regards to the chronic Syrian claims to Arab primacy.

Far from wanting to "flip" to the American side, Syria wants to enlist the US in its campaign to undermine US Arab allies -- as Lee Smith put it, to have Washington play "the bagman in an extortion racket" against US Arab allies -- while maintaining the alliance with Iran, as it did throughout the 90s.

The notion that Syria will abandon this long-held and overall successful symbiosis for the sake of a tiny piece of land betrays utter ignorance of the regime's nature and interests. Efraim Inbar said it well today:

The naïve belief that territorial concessions will dissuade Syria from continuing its cozy relationship with Teheran is baseless. Precisely those who belittle the strategic importance of the Golan Heights believe that Syria ascribes great importance to this piece of territory and its transfer to Syrian hands could change the foreign policy orientation of Damascus. Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, tried unsuccessfully to move Syria toward a pro-American orientation in 1976. Under more auspicious international circumstances, after the Cold War, the formidable US secretary of state James Baker tried again but failed. Even when Washington was the only game in town, the Syrians preferred no ties with the Americans.
Similarly far-fetched is the expectation that Damascus would stop arms and cash flow to Hizbullah and would expel the Islamic Jihad and Hamas headquarters from Syria.
The expectations that the Syrian regime will behave differently than in the past betrays an ignorance of Middle Eastern politics, and espouses unfounded optimism.

Terrorism is literally the Assad family business, and has been so since they came to power. The notion that the same policies that failed miserably in the 90s will result in the opposite outcome for reasons unbeknownst to all, is the best definition not just of delusion, but also of insanity. It's what Lee Smith dubbed "the Damascus Disease":

In the 90s, when the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations thought it was buying off the conmen in Damascus, instead it wound up with a strengthened Hezbollah, the consolidation of the Syria-Iran alliance, and the second intifada.

You'd think US policy speculators would've learned by now. But then again, many of them continue to confuse diplomacy with appeasement and inducement.