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Later that month, the President said,
“We fight the terrorists and we fight all of those who those who give them aid. America has a message for the nations of the world. If you harbor a terrorist, you are terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you are a terrorist, and you
will be held accountable by the United States and our friends." We are not doing that. It's all talk and they hear it. In his speech to the United Nations, the President said,
“In this world there are good causes and bad causes, and we may disagree about where this line is drawn. Yet there is not such thing as a good terrorist, no national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Any government that reject this principle trying to
pick and chose it terrorists will know the consequences. Syria picks and chooses. It knows no consequences.
Finally, on June 24th, the President said that Syria had to "choose the right side on the war on terrorists like closing terrorist training camps and expelling terrorist organizations." Are these empty words? Are they “kalam fadi”-empty words? Are we just background noise?
There are four falsehoods, I believe, that people who are against this bill will mention. One is that the bill would curtail the Administration's margin of maneuverability. In fact, the act is an actual manifestation of the President's own warning that those who support terror will be held accountable. Bashar Assad is waiting to see if we are serious or if this is just more background noise.
This issue of the margin of maneuverability sends Assad and others the clear message that sponsoring certain terrorist groups maybe tolerated in return for some level of cooperation against
Syria believes, for example, that it can leverage cooperation related to the interrogation of Mohammed Zammar, an al-Qaeda terrorist linked to the September 11th hijackings, for American indifference to related to its continued terrorist activities. This undermines the war on terrorism.
In fact, the Syria Accountability Act builds in, both a national security interest waiver, and indicating its respect for the Administration's need for flexibility only requires the government to select two of the five most sensitive proposed sanctions.
People suggest that this bill would push Syria into the arms of Iraq. Syria is already there. Just as in the war on terrorism, Syria needs to chose the right side when it comes to Iraq.
There is a report coming out today from another think tank indicating that up to half to the $2 billion in illicit funds that are supporting and propping up the Iraqi regime come from the illicit oil trade with Syria.
There are those who say the bill would undermine Syrian reform, and it's true that when Bashar Assad first came to power there was great hope; but let's take a measure. Early measures taken to liberalize the banking industry and crack down on corruption have fizzled. While some civilians have been jailed on corruption charges, the most seriously corrupt elements of Syrian society—the Syrian military has been left untouched.
The recent closure of the Lebanese MTV television station is just the most recent manifestation of the Syrian crackdown on Lebanese society, and there has been no reform regarding the support for terrorism. When a suicide bomber murdered 15 people at a pool hall outside of Tel Aviv, Syrian state-controlled radio lauded "the wonderful and special suicide attacks," and which they described as a “practical declaration of the whole world of a way to liberate Arab Palestinian land."
In fact, I think nothing undermines the need to establish an independent Palestinian state more than these terrorist attacks.
Just 2 days before the September 11th attacks, Syria state-appointed Grand Mufti described “heroic suicide operations as a natural and legitimate reaction that must be blessed" —September 9, 2001. Damascus openly flaunts its support for terrorism and is hardly engaged in either domestic or foreign policy reform.
Mr. GILMAN. The gentleman's time is expiring. Would you please sum up?
Mr. LEVITT. Inducing Syria to abandon its support for terrorism through financial, diplomatic or even military pressure will not be easy, even if such measures are coupled with space-saving gestures; nevertheless, it is essential that the United States follow through on its declared policy of a zero tolerance for state sponsorship of terrorism.
U.S. officials have stated unequivocally that such sponsorship must end, and that the organizations supported by Syria are terrorist groups of global reach. History shows that an even greater risk to U.S. interests will emerge if Washington fails to live up to its word. Such a failure will ensure that future pleas to end terror are heard, if at all, as nothing more than diplomatic background noise. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Levitt follows:) PREPARED STATEMENT OF MATTHEW A. LEVITT, SENIOR FELLOW, WASHINGTON
INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY The following written statement borrows heavily from the author's forthcoming monograph, “No Good Terrorists': Middle Eastern Terrorist Groups and State Sponsors in the War on Terror" (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, forthcoming October 2002)
As the Bush administration surveys it options for year two of the war on terrorism, scant attention is focused on Syria-despite the fact that Dr. Bashar alAssad's regime has been among the world's most active supporters of terrorism, even after September 11. In fact, Syrian support for terrorism under Bashar al Assad has become far more brazen and direct that it was under the rule of his father, Hafez al Assad. Over the past year, the President and other senior officials have warned Damascus to terminate its proactive sponsorship of international terrorist groups of global reach, extended face-saving opportunities for Syria to do so, and warned that Syria that it must close down terrorist training camps, expel terrorist organizations, and “choose the right side in the war on terror.” Failure to hold Syria accountable for its support of international terrorism after repeatedly articulating this message will further dilute America's already diminished credibility in the eyes of men like Bashar al Assad, Yasir Arafat, and Saddam Hussein. Bashar is waiting to see if the United States will actually act on all its talk, or if in fact it's all just kalam fadi, empty words.
Syria is a charter member of the State Department's state sponsors of terrorism list, subject to relevant bilateral economic sanctions, but is the only Middle Eastern state sponsor subject to congressionally imposed state-sponsorship sanctions only. However, efforts to convince or compel Syria to renounce terrorism, in both word and deed, have historically been of lower priority than encouraging Syrian moderation in Arab-Israeli diplomacy. Indeed, successive U.S. administrations have seemed to act on the supposition that the path to ending Syrian support for terrorism is via a Syria-Israel peace treaty. Since the prospects for Syrian-Ísraeli peace receded after the failed Clinton-Assad summit of March 2000, neither goal-ending Syrian terrorism or pursuing Syrian-Israeli peace—has been a high priority for the United States.
After the al Qaeda attacks in September 2001, the Bush administration focused once again on the role of state sponsors, but with a twist. The wording of President Bush's September 20, 2001, declaration—“From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime”-implicitly offered state sponsors a virtual amnesty for previous actions, should they jettison the terrorist option and join fully in the campaign to stamp out terror. This message was reinforced vis-a-vis the Syrian case when the United States did not oppose Syria's election to the world's most elite security club—the United Nations Security Council-one week later.
POSITIVE MEASURES? Since September 11, Syria has undertaken limited and measured but positive steps in the war on terrorism. Syrian authorities reportedly arrested four Syrian nationals and an unspecified number of foreigners allegedly affiliated with al Qaeda in the village of Deir a-Zor (as reported in a November 23, 2001, communiqué of the Syrian Human Rights Organization).3 The Syrians also reportedly allowed an FBI agent to visit Aleppo and question individuals who knew September 11 mastermind Muhammad Atta in the mid-1990s (although reported in numerous press stories, knowledge of the visit was denied by Syrian officials who also denied any official cooperation between Syria and the FBÌ).4 Syria has shared intelligence with U.S. agencies on people and organizations linked to al Qaeda, especially Syrian-born German citizen and senior al Qaeda commander Mohammad Heidar Zammar.5 U.S. officials, however, have not been granted direct access to Zammar, and have no way of knowing if the Syrians are passing along everything Zammar tells them or just information that suits their interests. For example, the Syrians are unlikely to share information pertaining to Syrian nationals or other terrorist groups enjoying Syrian support. In fact, German law enforcement authorities investigating the Hamburg cell maintain they have yet to receive any information from the interrogations of Zammar. 6
The New York Times cited unnamed U.S. officials as stating that a senior CIA official held secret discussions with a Syrian counterpart relating to al Qaeda.? While unconfirmed, it is suspected that some of the intelligence cooperation centered
1 Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan are all subject to additional sanctions such as the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILŠA), the Helms-Burton Act, the Cuban Democracy Act, the Trade Sanctions and Export Enhancement Act, the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Arms Export Control Act, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and more. For a complete listing of the U.S. Treasury Department's sanctions programs and country summaries, see http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sanctions/index.html
2 Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, which can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov / news / releases / 2001/09/20010920-8.html
At http://www.menewsline.com/stories/2001 / novemberi 11–23—4.html
5 Steven Erlanger, “Germans Say Figure Linked to Sept. 11 is in Syria Jail," The New York Times, June 19, 2002; Peter Finn, “Syria Interrogating al Qaeda Recruiter,” The Washington Post, June 19, 2002. Zammar is not the only senior al Qaeda operative of Syrian origin. Others include Mamoun Dakazanli (whose import-export businesses were fronts for terrorist financing), Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (an al Qaeda financier liked to al Qaeda cells in Madrid, Hamburg and Milan), Kamal Hadid Chaar, Ghasoub al Abrash Ghayloun, Abdalrahman Alarnaot Abu Aljer, Mohamen Khair al Saqq, Mostafa Abdel Kader Miriam, and Abdul Matin Tatari (whose companies are suspected of serving as a front for a network that supplied false documents, laundered money, and smuggled terrorists from country to country).
6 Douglas Frantz, “Sharing Informaiton: Learning to Spy with Allies," The Washington Post, September 8, 2002
Neil MacFarquhar, “A Nation Challenged: Damascus; Syria Repackages Its Repression of Muslim Militants as Antiterror Lesson," The New York Times, January 14, 2002, P. A8 arabicnews.com, Oct. 29, 2001, at http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/ Daily / Day/011029/ 2001102906.html
on Mamoun Darkazanli, the fugitive Syrian businessman who appears to have served as a key financial conduit between Atta's Hamburg cell and al Qaeda.8 In the weeks leading up to Syria's election to the Security Council, reports suggested a slowdown in the flow of arms from Tehran to Damascus, transshipped under Syrian military escort to Hizballah in Lebanon.9 Sources indicate this apparent slowdown was short lived. Most critically, Syria has provided actionable intelligence from interrogations of al Qaeda operatives held in Syria-most likely Zammar-that led to the disruption of at least one terrorist attack against U.S. military forces in the Gulf. 10
BUSINESS AS USUAL The significance of these measures notwithstanding, the most important theme of Syria's policy on terrorism since September 11 has been “business as usual.” In fact, no country has rejected the Bush administration's outreach approach as dismissively as has Syria. For example, in his June 24, 2002, speech demanding Palestinian reform President Bush also called on Syria to “choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations.” 11 The al. Liwaa newspaper ran an interview with Bashar al-Assad a week later, in which the Syrian President asserted that Palestinian suicide bombings were simply acts of “despair” caused by “Israel's barbaric practices against an unarmed people," and reasserted that “Syria supports the Lebanese national resistance, including Hizballah." 12
HARBORING TERRORISTS, PROMOTING TERROR According to the State Department, seven of the twenty-eight terrorist groups cited in Patterns of Global Terrorism 2000 receive some level of sponsorship and support from Syria, and a number of “Specially Designated Terrorists,” such as senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, coordinate terrorist activities and reside in Damascus (together with other leaders of terrorist organizations not yet listed as Specially Designated Terrorists).13 From these headquarters, the groups and leaders incite, recruit, train, coordinate, and direct terrorism. Indeed, since September 11, no fewer than five Damascus-based organizations—PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Hizballah-have undertaken operations, from suicide bombings to assassinations, resulting in the deaths of dozens of civilians and an Israeli cabinet minister.
Syrian officials actively support these groups' activities-despite protestations that Palestinian groups maintain solely "political offices” in Damascus—as evidenced in the May 21, 2001, meeting between DFLP head Nayef Hawatmeh and Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Mustafa Tlas. According to a DFLP official, “the talks covered ways of supporting the Palestinian uprising and resistance in occupied Palestine against the Zionist aggressions." 14 In another example, former Hamas military commander Salah Shehada himself acknowledged the central role played by these “political” leaders in acts of terrorism. Shehada asserted that “the political apparatus is sovereign over the military apparatus, and a decision of the political (echelon) takes precedence over the decision of the military (echelon), without intervening in military operations.” 15
While it is far from certain the talks would have amounted to anything, the fact is that the “political,” Damascus-based leaders of Palestinian rejectionist groups like Hamas and PIJ torpedoed talks between the Palestinian Authority and various Palestinian factions in August on the terms of a proposed ceasefire. The "outside” leadership in Damascus pressured the groups' “inside” leaders not to accede to any deal that proscribed suicide and other terrorist attacks. Syrian officials themselves urged Hamas and PIJ not to cease operations but to step up attacks as well. In May, Damascus reportedly offered Hamas direct Syrian financial aid if it renewed suicide bombers. 16
8 Peter Finn, “German Officials Link Hijackers To Al Qaeda Group”, The Washington Post, September 27, 2001, P. Al
9 Herb Keinon, “Arms Flow to Hizbullah via Syria Slows," The Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2001
10 Howard Schneider, “Syria Evolves as Anti-Terror Ally,” The Washington Post, July 25, 2002
11 “President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership,” at http://www.whitehouse.gov/ news/releases/2002/06/20020624-3.html
12 NA, “Syria Stands by Hezbollah,” BBC News Online, July 1, 2002
13 Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2001/html/ 10249.htm.
14 Issam Hamza, “Syrian Defense Chief Meets PLO Guerrilla Leader,” Reuters, May 21, 2001
15 “A May 2002 Interview with Hamas Comander of the Al Qassam Brigades,” Special Dispatch-Palestinian Authority/Jihad and Terrorist Studies, No 403, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), July 24, 2002, at www.MEMRI.org
Syria's hosting these group's leaders, providing them with some semblance of policitcal cover, and facilitating their financing and operational planning frustrates U.S. efforts to deescalate Israeli-Palestinian violence, establish calm and initiate reform within the Palestinian Authority.
SPONSORING, TRAINING AND ARMING TERRORISTS If any trends can be discerned, evidence suggests that Syrian efforts to promote terrorism have expanded under Bashar al-Assad's rule. Since Bashar took office, Israeli authorities have uncovered more than twenty Hamas activists who were recruited in various Arab countries and sent to Syria for terrorist training. 17 The recruits received weapons training, as well as lessons in the preparation of explosives, intelligence activities, hostage taking, and suicide operations.
Last week, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage identified Hizballah as "the A team of terrorism,” and warned that “their time will come, there's no question about it.” 18 In fact, there is no dealing with Hizballah without first dealing with Syria. According to press reports, Syria has actually integrated elements of Hizballah's military units into the Syrian army in Lebanon and, in a sharp break from the caution exercised by his father, Bashar al Assad has started supplying Hizballah with heavy arms itself (on top of Iranian arms transshipped via Damascus), including a new 220 mm rocket. 19
Additionally, since Assad inherited the presidency from his father, there is strong evidence that the Syrian-backed Hizballah has moved energetically into the Palestinian arena—both by sending its own operatives to attempt terrorism inside Israel, as in the case of Jihad “Gerard” Shuman, arrested in January 2001,20 and by establishing links with terrorist groups in the West Bank, Gaza, and among Israeli Arabs. For example, Hizballah operatives working with Force 17 colonel Masoud Ayad in Gaza reportedly directed small arms and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians in Gaza. 21 In June 2002, Israeli authorities conducting a search in Hebron arrested a Hizballah operative who had entered the country on a Canadian passport.22 The arrest of this individual coincided with the discovery in Hebron of mines previously only used by Hizballah in Lebanon.23 Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp are more active in Lebanon than ever, including recruiting, training, and dispatching a cell of Palestinians which killed 7 Israelis in a crossborder raid on the northern Israeli community of Metsuba in March 2002.24 Hizballah has also engaged in a proactive effort to recruit Israeli-Arabs to provide intelligence on Israel and logistical support for terrorist operations. Israeli authorities have broken several cells of Israeli-Arabs associated with Hizballah and other “Lebanese groups,” including a four-person cell suspected of passing "computer programs, maps, various objects and documents which may constitute intelligence" through the village of Ghajjar (which straddles the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon) to groups in Lebanon in exchange for drugs and weapons.25 Similarly, a Hizballah operative recruited a terrorist cell of Israeli Arabs from the Galilee village of Abu Snan, which was uncovered by Israeli authorities as the group was planning kidnapping operations that would have targeted Israeli soldiers.26 In July 2002, Israeli authorities arrested Hussein Ali al-Khatib and Hatem Ahmad al-Khatib, two
16 Zeev Schiff, “Sources Say Syria Pushing Hamas to Renew Attacks,” Haaretz, May 20, 2002 17 Amos Harel, “Shin Bet Arrests more than Twenty Hamas Activists,” Canadian Jewish News,” October 4, 2001
18 “US Deputy Secretary of State: Hizbalah-“A Team of Terrorism,” www.Albawaba.com, September 6, 2002; “Hizballah Says Will Defend Lebanon from US Threats," Reuters, September 6, 2002
19 Zeev Schiff, “Don't Underestimate Assad Jr.,” Haaretz, August 2, 2002 20 Jack Katzenell, “Barak Signs Six Month Detention Order Against Lebanese Suspect,” AP Worldstream, February 21, 2001
21 NA, “IDF abducts Force 17 Member in Gaza, Arrests 4 Hamas activists,” Ha'aretz Daily, January 2, 2002
22 Lenny Ben-David, “Iran, Syria and Hizballah: Threatening Israel's North,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol 2, no 3, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, July 18, 2002
23 Lenny Ben-David, “Iran, Syria and Hizballah: Threatening Israel's North,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol 2, no 3, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, July 18, 2002
24 Lenny Ben-David, “Iran, Syria and Hizballah: Threatening Israel's North,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol 2, no 3, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, July 18, 2002
25 NA, “Israel Arrests Arabs Spying for Lebanese Groups,” The Daily Star (Beirut), August 6, 2002
26 Dina Kraft, “Seven Israeli Arabs Charged with Spying for Lebanese Guerillas,” AP Worldstream, November 29, 2000