An American Update on Syria

Syria’s Role in Regional Destabilization: An American View
David Schenker

* In the aftermath of Israel’s air operation over Syria, Dr. Andrew Semmel, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy and Negotiations, warned that Syria might have a number of “secret suppliers” for a covert nuclear program. Syria is reported to have thousands of rockets with ranges of up to 56 miles positioned along Syria’s southern border with Israel, while longer-range missiles armed with chemical warheads are believed to be positioned further from the border. At the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference in November 2006, John C. Rood, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, specifically cited Syria as being engaged in research and development “for an offensive BW program.”

* During his testimony to Congress on September 10, 2007, General David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, presented maps illustrating Syria’s pivotal role as the source of foreign fighters entering Iraq. One of his maps showed three arrows that illustrated infiltration routes from Syria into Iraq; they were labeled “Foreign Fighter Flow.” A week earlier, in an interview with al-Watan al-Arabi, Petraeus described how Syria allows thousands of these insurgents to arrive at Damascus International Airport and then cross the Iraqi border.

* Syria has sponsored terrorist organizations for decades. The U.S. Department of Defense determined that Syria and Iran were involved in the October 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. military personnel. In 2001, a U.S. grand jury pointed out that Saudi Hizbullah, which had been responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers attack killing 19 U.S. Air Force personnel, used Syrian territory for training; indeed, the planners of the attack met at the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine in Damascus.

* During last summer’s war, Damascus not only transshipped Iranian weapons to Hizbullah, but also provided its own top-of-the-line, Russian-made military equipment – the Kornet anti-tank missile – and its own 220mm anti-personnel rockets. Likewise, in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, Syrian rearmament of Hizbullah continues unabated. On March 24, 2007, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1747 that specifically called on all states to refrain from the procurement of “any arms or related material” from Iran. The resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and thus constitutes binding international law. Nonetheless, Syria persisted in receiving Iranian weaponry and transferring these prohibited materials to Hizbullah.

The writer, a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served from 2002 to 2006 in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as country director for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

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