Confronting Syrian-Backed Terrorism

Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman
Daniel L. Byman Director and Professor, Security Studies Program - Georgetown University, Nonresident Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center for Middle East Policy

June 1, 2005

U.S. policymakers rightly blast Damascus for backing Palestinian, Lebanese, and other terrorist groups, but they often fail to grasp the Syrian regime’s ambivalent relationship with several of its clients and the nuanced way it manages them. Over the years, Syria has aided a daunting array of terrorist groups, but it seldom has been an ardent supporter. Damascus has both bolstered and weakened the Palestinian cause, encouraged and constrained Hizballah in Lebanon, abetted and arrested Iraqi insurgents, and otherwise demonstrated considerable care and variance in how it uses terrorist groups. Syria also tries to portray itself as part of the solution to terrorism, demonstrating not only its efforts to halt Al Qaeda but also its ability, for the right price, to shut down the very groups it sponsors. As Middle East expert Michael Doran contends, “Ever since the 1980s, Syria has played this game of being both the arsonist and the fire department.”