Syria’s Role in Lebanon

Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk
Martin S. Indyk Former Brookings Expert, Distinguished Fellow - The Council on Foreign Relations

March 3, 2005

Martin S. Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs and U.S. Ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, says that while President Bush deserves credit for using his bully pulpit, Syria’s departure from Lebanon wouldn’t necessarily lead to democracy, or peace. Indyk, now director of the Washington-based Saban Center for Middle East Policy, talked to TIME’s Elaine Shannon.

On a Syrian Departure from Lebanon:

“We need to be very clear-eyed about what’s at stake here when we stir up the Lebanese opposition. The Syrians believe that retaining control over Lebanon is a vital interest of theirs. They can stir up considerable trouble in Lebanon using Hizbollah. That can lead either to chaos and sectarian war in Lebanon, or a flare-up on the border between southern Lebanon and Israel, or both. The Syrians have ways to say to us, ‘You want us out of here, then you live with the consequences.’ We may find ourselves in a situation which has the potential to disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian process, which itself is a fragile operation. While it’s important to support the Lebanese, it’s also important for the Bush administration to be clear about its priorities.”

On Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s assertion Syria shared blame for last week’s bombings in Tel Aviv because, as she told NBC news, “Palestinian Islamic Jihad, operating in Syria, had advance knowledge of the attacks:”

“What she knows and hasn’t said is that the PIJ is controlled by Iran. While it’s important, essential, to get the Syrians to shut down the PIJ office in Damascus, it’s also important to be clear about what the source of the problem is. From the mid-1990s, Iran has been determined to use PIJ terrorist operation to disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and there is a very clear of pattern of PIJ activities during the intifada. Whenever [the region] calmed down, it was the PIJ that launched terrorist attacks, because the Iranians have a very strong interest in preventing the peace process from going forward. We should be pointing the finger at Iran and pressuring them, with the Europeans, to stop this sponsorship of terrorism against the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

On the most recent edition of the State Department’s annual “Global Patterns of Terrorism” report, which notes that “Iran provided Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian rejectionist groups—notably HAMAS, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command—with funding, safehaven, training, and weapons” and adds “The Syrian Government in 2003 continued to provide political and material support to Palestinian rejectionist groups [operating] from Syria, although they have lowered their public profiles since May, when Damascus announced that the groups had voluntarily closed their offices”:

“All the dots are connected here. The Iranian alliance with Syria, the Iranian sponsorship of PIJ and Hizbollah are all factors that need to be considered while we are confronting [the idea of Syria] getting out of Lebanon. I suspect the Iranians would be quite happy to have us bogged down in a conflict in Lebanon where Hizbollah can create great damage to us as they have in the past.”