Syria & Syrians - The Peace FAQ

Syria & Syrians
Frequently Asked Questions:
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Is Syria a terrorist state? What is the U.S. position? Does Syria want real peace with Israel? What is Syria's motivation in participating in the 'peace process'? Once Israel's security concerns are addressed, won't there be peace? How does the Assad family maintain its power in Syria?

Is Syria a terrorist state? What is the U.S. position?
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Syria is a charter member of the list of "state sponsors of terrorism"-appearing on the first such list in 1979--and it has kept its spot on that list ever since. According to the State Department, the Syrian government has not been directly engaged in terrorism since it was implicated in the attempted bombing of an El Al flight in 1986. Nevertheless, Syria has retained its status as a state-sponsor of terrorism because it meets the criteria outlined in the Arms Export Amendments Act of 1989, which in part defines terrorist states as those that allow their territory to be used as a sanctuary; provide logistical support to terrorists or terrorist organizations; provide safe haven or headquarters for terrorists and their organizations; plan, direct, train, or assist in terrorist activities; and/or provide financial support for terrorist activities. According to the 1998 edition of the State Department's annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, Syria provides safe haven and logistical support to terrorists. Specifically, says Patterns 1998, Damascus permits numerous terrorist groups-- headed by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)--to maintain their headquarters in Damascus and Syria-controlled territory in Lebanon, and it allows Hizballah to receive military supplies via Syrian territory. In addition, Patterns 1998 raises questions regarding continued Syrian support to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), even after Syria's expulsion of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in

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Syria & Syrians - The Peace FAQ

October 1998. Despite its two-decade record of support for terrorism, Syria is not subject to sanctions as extensive as those meted out to some of its fellow "state sponsors." Whereas U.S. law prohibits Syria from receiving direct economic assistance, U.S. military equipment, and high-tech products made in America, there is no ban on trading with Syria as there is on Iraq and Iran. As a result, Syria received $161 million in U.S. exports in 1998, down from a high of $226 million in 1996. Even this low 1998 total made the United States the seventhlargest source of Syria's imports. - David Schenker, research fellow at The Washington Institute, January 5, 2000

Does Syria want real peace with Israel?
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They [Syrian spokesmen] speak soothingly ... of their deep desire for "the peace of the brave." Looking at what their leaders tell their own people about Jews, however, one gets the distinct impression that their ultimate goal is the peace of the grave. - Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, January 7, 2000

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Radical States and Regional Stability by Professor Barry Rubin Syria must adjust to the current regional situation although it does so by making the minimum possible policy change. It was the state most hard-hit by the USSR's collapse. Damascus was on bad terms with all its neighbors, threatened by Saddam's drive for leadership, undermined by the end of Saudi subsidies, bogged down in Lebanon's civil war, and short of money for buying weapons. But Syria's role in the Kuwait crisis and the need to involve it in ArabIsraeli peacemaking eased the pressure on Damascus. Syria's militancy arises from the country's history, regime's ideology, and the ruling Alawite minority's need to prove its nationalist and Islamic credentials to a skeptical Sunni Muslim majority. By declaring itself guardian of Arabism and the Palestinian cause, Syria rationalized its interests to gain hegemony in Lebanon, isolate Egypt after the Camp David accords, intimidate Jordan from negotiating with Israel, split the PLO, blackmail oil-producing states to provide aid, sponsor a proxy war against Turkey, and bar Israel from participation in regional affairs. Terrorism has been an important tool in Syria's arsenal for pursuing these goals. Syria's "main asset, in

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Syria & Syrians - The Peace FAQ

contrast to Egypt's preeminence and Saudi wealth," explains Fouad Ajami, "is its capacity for mischief." Syria's domination over Lebanon seems as strong as ever. Since first sending in its army in 1975, nominally as a peacekeeping force, Damascus developed a network of clients while intimidating adversaries through violence. The 1991 Syrian-brokered Taif accords ended the fighting without reducing Syrian control. Similarly, Syria has been able to limit concessions regarding its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Participating in talks does not necessarily mean readiness to reach a diplomatic solution. On the contrary, Damascus has done the minimum needed to avoid U.S. pressure, maintain good relations with Europe, and obtain Saudi economic help while setting its own demands high enough to sabotage any diplomatic breakthrough. Syria turned down Israel's offer to return all the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Syria is uninterested in reaching agreement since even one meeting virtually all its demands would severely damage its interests. Unable to use Israel as a threat, Syria would have a hard time obtaining aid, influencing Arab counsels, or continuing to control Lebanon. Any diplomatic solution would increase U.S. influence; favor Egypt, Israel, and Jordan over Syria; block Syrian influence on the Palestinians; and make Israel a stronger rival. Internal politics also inhibit Syria from making a peace that enemies would portray as traitorous while raising popular demands for democracy and higher living standards. The dictatorship has no wish to reduce the size or budget of an army sustaining its rule. In short, Syria's hawkishness has been rational. Of course, this does not mean Syria wants war or confrontation either with Israel--which defeated it in three wars despite conditions far better for Damascus--or with the United States. For Asad, it is a far more profitable strategy to speak in tones of reasonableness and cooperation while hoping the future will bring opportunities to escape Syria's weak position. Being so isolated, relatively poor and weak, and with much of its army tied up in Lebanon, Syria is unlikely to engage in unilateral aggression on Israel or other neighbors. Radical states pose a long-term threat to regional stability. Nevertheless, a combination of U.S. power, Arab opposition, isolation, division among themselves, Israeli power, and recent defeats constrain them from acting as they would like to do. 28. New York Times Sunday Magazine, 1 April 1990.

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29. On Syria's military strategy and capabilities, see Michael Eisenstadt, Arming for Peace: Syria's Elusive Quest for `Strategic Parity' (Washington DC, 1992). 30. On Syria's handling of these problems see, for example, Washington Post, 18 January and 12 December 1989; 15 and 17 July, 9 August, 11 September, and 24 November, 1990. New York Times, 10 January 1989 and 15 July, 9 and 25 August, and 11 September 1990. On Syria's human rights record, see Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Syria (NY, 1990). 31. The Alawites comprise only about 12 percent of Syria's population. On Syria's political culture, see Rubin, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, op. cit. 32. Daniel Pipes, Greater Syria, (NY, 1991). 33. See, for example, U.S. Department of Defense, Terrorist Group Profiles Washington 1988; U.S. Department of State, Abu Nidal Organization, (Washington, 1988); Barry Rubin, "The Uses of Terrorism in the Middle East," in Barry Rubin, The Politics of Terrorism, (Washington DC, 1988). Syria's terrorist assets include the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), the Samir Ghosha branch of the Palestine Liberation Front, the al-Fatah rebels led by Abu Musa, the Palestine Struggle Front, al-Saiqa (Palestinian), Abu Nidal's al-Fatah--Revolutionary Council, a branch of (Palestinian) Islamic Jihad led by Ahmad Mahana, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK, anti-Turkish Kurds). It has significant influence over the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Syria also encouraged al-Amal to attack Palestinian refugee camps in Syria in the 1980s. See, for example, al-Dustur, "The Syrian `peace' following the Israeli `peace,'" 3 June 1985; alNahar, 29 May 1985. David Ottoway, "Syrian Connection to Terrorism Probed," Washington Post, 1 June 1986. 34. Fouad Ajami, "Arab Road," Foreign Policy, No. 47, Summer 1982, p. 16. 35. Daniel Pipes, Damascus Courts the West: Syrian Politics, 198991 (Washington DC, 1991). See also Eyal Zisser, "Hizballah in Lebanon - At the Crossroads," A. Nizar Hamzeh, "Islamism in Lebanon: A Guide," and Laura Zittrain Eisenberg: "Israel's Lebanon Policy," in Middle East Review of International Affairs 3 (September 1997). 36. Financial Times, 18 March 1992; Wall Street Journal, 29 October 1991. Permitting Syrian Jews to emigrate is an example of Asad's efforts to make gestures to Washington. Professor Barry Rubin is Senior Resident Scholar at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies and Editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs. His books include Cauldron of Turmoil: America in the Middle East (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992); Revolution Until Victory?: The Politics and History of the PLO (Harvard University Press, 1994); and, as co-editor, Iraq's Road to War (St. Martin's
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Press, 1994) and The Israel-Arab Reader (Viking-Penguin, 1996).

What is Syria's motivation in participating in the 'peace process'?
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For Syrian president Hafez Assad, that [U.S. financial aid] is the real prize. Perhaps the most urgent objective for the 69-year-old mr. Assad is to exploit peace with Israel to cultivate among the American political elite an interest in the survival of his brutal dictatorship. Even a small aid package would achieve this goal, an especially important one when reports of mr. Assad's declining mental and physical capabilities and his family's violent internal feuding suggest profound vulnerability within his regime. ... [However, ] Ending [Syrian] support for terrorism - as well as providing full cooperation to U.S. investigations of anti-American terrorist attacks, extraditing nazi war criminals, securing the freedom of Israelis still missing in action, and stopping transport of Iranian arms to Hezbollah across Syrian-controlled territory - should be the beginning of this [Peace] process, not its end. - Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington institute for Near East Policy, in the Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2000

Once Israel's security concerns are addressed, won't there be peace?
"...Israelcannot have only a strategic peacewith Syria, as was the case with Egypt; the substantial differences between the two countries mean that peacecan endure only if there are internal changes in Syria." - Thomas Friedman, before the Washington Institute's Policy Forum, Washington DC, December 10, 1999

How does the Assad family maintain its power in Syria?
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Hafez Assad President Assad of Syria is an Alawite Muslim while the majority of

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Syria & Syrians - The Peace FAQ

the population is Sunni. The latter regard the Alawites as heretics to Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwan, instituted activities against Assad and his Baath Party. The leadership of the Brotherhood consisted largely of Muslim clerics, the ulama, and its rank and file were mainly young Sunni bourgeois or urban poor. The Brotherhood carried out a number of bomb attacks and assassinations against the government. Scores of Baath party workers were slain in their homes often together with their wives and children. On 26th June 1980, Ikhwan assassins attacked the "enemy of Allah", Assad himself. The next morning eight hundred Ikhwan in Palmyra prison were killed in their cells. The Mukhabarrat, secret police of Assad rounded up those they considered were collaborating with the Brotherhood. A leading light, Shisakhi was found castrated, face burnt with acid and his eyes gouged out. Hundreds of Sunni were executed and even some Christians. Suspects were tortured to prepare lists of the Islamic underground. An apparatus to rip out fingernails was used and also the "Black Slave"-a hot metal skewer which burnt its way from the anus to the colon.1 The ancient city of Hama was the Ikhwan stronghold and Assad was determined to clean it out. On 2nd February 1982, five hundred troops moved into the old Barudi district. The Ikhwan were waiting for them and cut them down with machine-gun fire. Exhilarated with their early success they called for a jihad against Assad. Every mosque in Hama blared forth the call from its minarets. The guerrilla war was over; it was time for everyone to openly support the Brotherhood and drive out the "infidels". The Ikhwan held a sizeable part of the town and even had its own hospital and women fighters. Some Syrian army units defected to them. Assad called in the heavy weapons; many of the old alleyways were too narrow for tanks and so whole districts were flattened by artillery rather than engage the Brotherhood in hand to hand fighting. Thousands of innocent people were killed in this way. Many more perished during the "mopping up". Buildings were dynamited without concern for the occupants. After that whole areas were levelled by bulldozers. The death toll is estimated at over 20,000. "Syria's murderous suppression of the Hama uprising had much in common with the behaviour of the Nazis in occupied Europe".2

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