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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Assad Visit to London: Background and Implications

Filed under: Hamas, Hizbullah, Radical Islam, Syria, Terrorism
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 2, No. 12     December 15, 2002

  • Syria remains one of the worst state-sponsors of international terrorism, providing a haven for leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.

  • Syria sponsors Hizballah in Lebanon, an international terrorist organization with a global reach that, before 9/11, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.

  • Syria refuses to recognize UN resolutions confirming Israel’s full withdrawal to the Lebanese-Israeli border.

  • Syria helps Saddam Hussein smuggle oil out and smuggle weapons into Iraq.

President Bashar Assad becomes the first Syrian head of state to visit Britain when he arrives on December 15 for an unprecedented state visit. He will have a working lunch with Prime Minister Tony Blair and an audience with the Queen.


Syria Harbors Terrorist Groups

Yet Syria remains one of the worst state-sponsors of international terrorism. It sponsors ten international terrorist groups on its own soil, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas. The latter two groups are responsible for some of the worst homicide bombings against the Israeli civilian population.

As a result of its harboring terrorist groups, Syria has been designated by the United States as a state supporting terrorism, and has been on the “terrorism list” of the U.S. Department of State since it was first prepared in 1979. Today, Syria is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which insists that all states “refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts.”


Hizballah’s Patron

Syria is also a sponsor of terrorism through its position in Lebanon, where it has stationed a large occupation army since 1975. The Syrian military is primarily located in eastern Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley. The Hizballah (pro-Iranian Shi’ite) organization has its training bases in this area in the vicinity of Syrian military camps. Moreover, Hizballah’s chief supply route goes through Syria. On a regular basis, Iranian cargo aircraft land at Damascus International Airport, carrying weapons for Hizballah.

Hizballah is an international terrorist organization with a global reach. It is responsible for the murder of 241 U.S. Marines in a Beirut suicide bombing in 1983. It seized the CIA station chief in Beirut, tortured, and executed him. It murdered another U.S. officer, Col. Higgins, serving in a peacekeeping capacity. In 2001, U.S. courts identified Saudi Hizballah as responsible for the 1996 bombing of al-Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. Air Force servicemen. Prior to September 11, 2001, Hizballah had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.

Hizballah has been openly expressing its global ambitions, with its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, calling recently for a widespread suicide bombing campaign. Speaking at a rally in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in November, he said, “Martyrdom operations – suicide bombings – should be exported outside Palestine….I encourage Palestinians to take suicide bombings worldwide. Don’t be shy about it.”1

After banning Hizballah’s military wing in late 2001, Canada finally slapped a total ban on Hizballah on December 11, 2002, after the group urged Palestinians to carry out more suicide attacks in Israel. However, Britain still recognizes Hizballah’s political wing.2

In addition, most EU delegations in Beirut maintain contact with Hizballah, despite the fact that in three different incidents, Hizballah sent recruits holding European passports to conduct terrorist missions in Israel. The continuously forgiving European approach is likely to encourage Hizballah to expand its operations in Europe and become more involved in international terrorism.3


Syria Undermines UN Resolutions

In 2000, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 from 1978. Israel’s line of withdrawal (the blue line) was recognized by the UN Security Council as a full withdrawal, as enshrined in UN Security Council Resolutions 1310 and 1337. Nonetheless, Syria fully supports Hizballah’s effort to wage war for further withdrawals, particularly in the Shebaa farms area, which technically is part of the Golan Heights. During Prime Minister Blair’s last visit to Damascus, Assad had the audacity to compare Hizballah’s struggle for this area to the French resistance to the Nazis.

Furthermore, on December 14, Syria voted in the UN Security Council against a U.S.-sponsored resolution, approved 14-1, condemning the suicide bomb attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.4 The Syrian ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, said he “could not accept the repeated mention of Israel in the text.”5


Syria Helps Saddam Hussein

Syria has also undermined UN resolutions on Iraq. Presently, all Iraqi oil production is under sanctions, meaning that any sales of Iraq oil must be conducted through the UN oil-for-food program. Syria has permitted Saddam to export oil in a pipeline crossing Syrian territory, allowing Iraq to circumvent the oil-for-food arrangements.

Furthermore, according to the Telegraph, Syria has been secretly helping Saddam Hussein by smuggling vital arms supplies to Baghdad. According to Western intelligence officials, at least 52 crates containing new Russian-made air-defense systems and spare parts have been smuggled into Iraq from Syria since the start of December. The intelligence officials believe Syria has helped Saddam smuggle substantial quantities of arms and spare parts through its territory, for which the Syrians receive an estimated 20 percent commission on the purchase price.6


Implications of Assad’s Visit

Assad’s visit to London clearly undermines the coherence of the war on terrorism. How can the U.S. attack the Taliban as a state sponsor of terrorism and ignore Syria’s backing of terrorism.

Because of the exceptionally high number of American fatalities from Hizballah attacks, Britain’s ignoring Syrian sponsorship of Hizballah can only alienate many Americans.

Had Syrian behavior improved, then the invitation to London would have made sense. Now, Assad understands that he can ignore his responsibilities regarding UN Security Council resolutions, threaten international peace and security, and be rewarded. He has lost any incentive to change his behavior. Because of his glaring violations of UN resolutions, any act that rewards Assad now will only undermines the UN in the longer term.




    1. Paul Martin, “Hizballah Calls for Global Attacks, Washington Times, 4 December 2002,
2. David Ljunggren, “Canada Slaps Total Ban on Hizbollah,” Reuters, 11 December 2002,
3. Gal Luft, “Deterioration Along the Israel-Lebanon Border, Peacewatch, No. 365, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 12 February 2002,
4. Charles Begley and Andy McSmith, “Men Held in Killing of U.S. Diplomat,” Independent (UK), 15 December 2002,
5. Melissa Radler, “UN Resolution Condemns Terror against Israelis – But Not Israel,” Jerusalem Post, 15 December 2002,
6. Con Coughlin, “Syrians ‘Smuggling Arms to Baghdad,'” Telegraph – UK, 15 December 2002,


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Mark Ami-El is publications coordinator of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.