The notion that Assad is only Syria’s problem ignores the history of the Iraq insurgency, Lebanese assassinations, and the global Iranian-Hezbollah war against Israel and the United States.
One of the reasons most often cited why the United States should not get involved in any way despite the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces is that Assad may be a brutal thug inside Syria, but he poses no threat outside Syria.
Syria’s ruling Ba’athist regime has launched a brutal crackdown on dissenters in the run-up to a landmark gathering of senior party leaders this week.
Damascus’s feared secret police have detained at least 14 opposition figures and have been blamed for the murders of two more.
So what?, you say. Let them kill each other, it’s not our business. What is forgotten is that Assad has a murderous history outside of Syria.
209. It is the Commission’s conclusion that, after having interviewed witnesses and suspects in the Syrian Arab Republic and establishing that many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination ….
Assad’s brother and brother-in-law initially were listed as being involved, although their names were removed from the final report.
In a refrain which now sounds familiar as to the use of chemical weapons, it was hard to prove that Assad personally issued the order to kill, it just so happened that his senior apparatus did it:
Syria’s former vice president said in a television interview Friday [December 30, 2005] that President Bashar Assad threatened former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri in the months before Hariri’s assassination and that the sophisticated operation to kill him could not have been carried out on the authority of only one agency.
“Hariri was subjected to many threats from Syria,” Abdul Halim Khaddam, who resigned the vice presidency in June after two decades as a confidant of the Assad family, told al-Arabiya television in an interview from Paris. “Dangerous things were said.”
Khaddam stopped short of accusing Assad of personal involvement in the decision to kill Hariri on Feb. 14 in Beirut. But he said that “in principle, no government body in Syria, be it a security apparatus or otherwise, can single-handedly make this decision.”
Assad also long supported Hamas, which was based in Damascus until the civil war started, as well as other Palestinian rejectionists. While true that Assad didn’t militarily challenge Israel on the Golan Heights, that was only because the consequence would have been the end of his regime.
Syria under Assad also became a key forward base for Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the supply chain to Hezbollah. It is for that reason that the Iranians play key support roles in the civil war, and Hezbollah has thrown it’s troops into battle for Assad and vowed to fight for Assad to the bitter end. While Assad is not al-Qaeda, he is a key player in the global Iranian and Hezbollah war against Israel and the United States.
Assad also supported the transit of al-Qaeda fighters on their way to kill American soldiers in Iraq and pro-American Iraqis.
Assad has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis on his hands. Here is some of that now-forgotten history:
- Rebels Aided By Allies in Syria, U.S. Says (2004): “U.S. military intelligence officials have concluded that the Iraqi insurgency is being directed to a greater degree than previously recognized from Syria, where they said former Saddam Hussein loyalists have found sanctuary and are channeling money and other support to those fighting the established government. … [Jordan's King] Abdullah noted that the governments of both the United States and Iraq believe that “foreign fighters are coming across the Syrian border that have been trained in Syria.”
- Syria’s Role in Regional Destabilization: An American View: “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’s Financial Support for Jihad: “Al-Qaeda in Iraq has long benefited from a network of associates in Syria, which it uses to facilitate travel to Iraq. In a 2003 investigation of foreign fighter recruiters operating out of Italy, prosecutors noted that “Syria has functioned as a hub for an al-Qaida network.” Transcripts of operatives’ conversations “paint a detailed picture of overseers in Syria coordinating the movement of recruits and money” between cells in Europe and training camps in northern Iraq run by Al-Qaeda affiliated, Kurdish Ansar al-Islam. Syrian cell leaders facilitated travel for recruits and provided them with funding while European members gave false travel documents to recruits and fugitives and monitored their travel. Some of the recruits traveling to the Ansar camps stayed at the Ragdan Hotel in Aleppo for some time and later stopped in Damascus. Indeed, the Italian investigation revealed that operatives in Europe who worked for Al-Qaeda leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi acted on the instructions of his lieutenants in and around Damascus and Aleppo. These men included Muhammad Majid (also known as Mullah Fuad), described as the “gatekeeper in Syria for volunteers intent on reaching Iraq.”
- Syria reportedly encourages Sunni insurgents (2007): “Syria, which the United States accuses of channeling Islamic militants into Iraq, denies any role in organizing groups opposed to the Iraqi government. Analysts and diplomats, however, said that they strongly doubted that the groups could operate in Syria, a police state, without the government’s approval.”
- Syria’s Role in the Iraq Insurgency (2009): “From 2005 to 2008, Syria was cited in successive quarterly Department of Defense reports, titled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” as a factor for instability. The May 2006 report, for example, points directly to Syria as a significant source of foreign fighters in Iraq and highlights “Syrian government assistance [to insurgents] before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The August and November 2006 reports identified Syria, along with Iran, as contributing to ethno-sectarian tensions that undermined the fledgling government in Iraq.”
- Syria’s Path to Islamist Terror (2010): “Speaking at a press conference held in Baghdad in 2004, Gen. Richard Myers, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “There are other foreign fighters. We know for a fact that a lot of them find their way into Iraq through Syria for sure.” According to some estimates, perhaps 80 percent of foreign fighters who infiltrated Iraq crossed the Syrian border. These were disproportionately responsible for the most devastating suicide bombings in Iraq. An Italian investigation of foreign fighter recruitment in Italy found that “Syria has functioned as a hub for an Al-Qaeda network.”
I could go on and on. You get the picture.
Assad helped al-Qaeda and former Ba’atheists kill Americans in Iraq. Yet as with the Hariri assassination and the current use of chemical weapons, Assad pretended not to know or be involved in what happens in his own regime.
Ironically, it was the growth of al-Qaeda in Iraq and international Jihad, assisted by the Assad regime, which now is Assad’s biggest problem.
None of this history will, or need, change minds as to the wisdom or lack thereof of a military involvement regarding chemical weapons.
But hopefully it will at least dispel the notion that a Bashar Assad regime, emboldened to use chemical weapons, does not pose a threat beyond Syria’s borders.