Duplicity in Damascus

[Weekly Standard] David Schenker - In October, a massive car bomb detonated in Damascus, killing 17. Even before the smoke cleared, Syria's Assad regime accused Sunni Muslim fundamentalists from abroad - i.e., al Qaeda. If al-Qaeda did sponsor the attack, it should have come as no surprise to Damascus: As the experiences of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan demonstrate, al-Qaeda has a track record of attacking its sponsors. Since 2002, the Assad regime has facilitated the movement through its territory of al-Qaeda fighters bound for Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. It has allowed these insurgents to train in Syria and has provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda-affiliated killers of Americans. By and large, this policy purchased Syria immunity from attacks. Along the way, however, these terrorists appear to have planted local roots. In al-Qaeda's evolving strategy, targeting is not contingent on a state's political orientation or on the assistance it receives from governments. Basically, the organization has no qualms about biting the hand that feeds it, whether the patron is Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Syria. Ultimately, Damascus' newfound problem with al-Qaeda may change the Assad regime's permissive attitude toward the group, but it's unlikely to have any impact on Syrian support for Hizbullah and Hamas. These longstanding relationships with Islamist terrorist organizations are closely linked to the 30-year strategic alliance between Damascus and Tehran. The Assad regime has trucked with Islamist terrorists for decades, and provides no indication that it would be willing to sever these relationships. Senior Israeli officials have stated that a peace deal is contingent on Syria's abandoning Tehran, forsaking terror, and joining the Western camp. Syria has responded emphatically and repeatedly that this kind of strategic reorientation is not in the cards. The writer is the director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2008-11-03 01:00:00

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