April 24, 2003 | Op-ed

Syria and Bashar Assad


  • Assad provided Saddam with military support, including night vision goggle and passports for Arab “volunteers” to enter Iraq to fight coalition forces.
  • The Bush Administration has warned Syria to halt its “hostile” actions and not to provide safe haven to Iraq officials.
  • The Syrian Accountability Act 2003 was introduced in the House and Senate to hold Syria accountable for its longstanding sponsorship of terrorism, illegal occupation of Lebanon and development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). 
  • On April 20th, Assad told two U.S. Congressmen that Syria will not give asylum to Iraqis wanted for war crimes. However, Syria's media and state-funded clerics have stepped-up their anti-US propaganda, and Syria's client, the terrorist organization, Hezbollah, has called on Islamic militants to target US forces in Iraq.



Assad views the US-led war on terrorism as a threat to his Ba'athist police state.

US efforts to fight global terrorism, prevent WMD from getting into the hands of terrorists or terrorist masters, and foster democracy in the Middle East threaten Assad's Ba'athist regime. Like the former Ba'ath regime in Baghdad, Syria maintains a repressive rule of terror. It is believed to have the largest arsenal of chemical and biological weapons of any Arab country. It provides support to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups that fuel the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It maintains an illegal occupation of Lebanon and treats Lebanon as its colony. Lacking freedom and with a weak economy, Assad relies on anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda to deflect internal dissatisfaction.

Assad opposes the establishment of a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq.
The goal of the Assad regime was to make the war in Iraq as painful as possible for the United States. Like Saddam Hussein, Assad hoped to maximize Iraqi civilian and American military casualties in order to force the US to withdraw from Iraq before liberation was complete and/or refrain from considering military actions against Middle Eastern rogue dictators in the future. The same logic may drive Syrian efforts to attempt to destabilize post-Saddam Iraq, to foment anti-Western terrorism, extremism and civil conflict.

's Ba'athists have used terrorist groups against the US in the past.

On March 27, Assad stated in the pro-Syrian, Lebanese daily Al-Safir that Lebanon was a model for resistance against the US-led coalition in Iraq. This suggests that Syria is considering using Hezbollah and other terrorist groups against US forces, as it did against US Marines and diplomats in Beirut in 1983 when more than 300 people were killed, causing a US withdrawal from Lebanon. Were Syria to employ this strategy again, it might sponsor Iraqi terrorist groups made up of former members of Sadam's regime. The campaign could include attacks against US officials, assassinations of moderate Iraqi leaders, and anti-US propaganda.



America should send a clear signal to Assad to end his sponsorship of terrorism, cease providing terrorists with safe harbor, and halt WMD programs. 

Economic and diplomatic tools can be used to pressure Syria. Europe and the UN should provide support.

  • So far, Syria has faced no consequences for its actions. It successfully parlayed apparently limited intelligence cooperation with the US against al-Qaeda into tacit US approval for its increased support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. (Even though Syria uses terrorism to fuel the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has warmly received Assad. Similarly, Syria was permitted to sit on the UN Security Council despite its illegal occupation of Lebanon.)
  • Until there is a significant change of Syrian behavior, the US should not permit the re-opening of the Kirkuk oil pipeline between Iraq and Syria — a pipeline that was used to smuggle oil out of Iraq and to enrich both Saddam and Assad.
  • Additional economic and diplomatic pressures should be applied directly and through such international institutions as the International Monetary Fund.
  • The US should demand an end to Syria's illegal occupation of Lebanon. The US should insist that the UN address the issue of Syria's colonial rule of Lebanon.
  • The US should call for the immediate closing of terrorist training camps in both Syria and Lebanon, in particular in the Bekaa Valley. Should Assad refuse to close those camps, the US must consider all other means of shutting them down. 
  • Assad should be put on notice that he may be held accountable for Hezbollah attacks against American interests anywhere in the world.
  • Assad must cooperate in locating and turning over to coalition forces any Iraqi Ba'ath officials that have found sanctuary in Iraq.