US embassy cable - 85DAMASCUS3741

SYRIA AND TERRORISM

Identifier: 85DAMASCUS3741
Wikileaks: View 85DAMASCUS3741 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Damascus
Created: 1985-06-13 12:22:00
Classification: SECRET
Tags: PTER KPAL KPRP JO IS LE IS SY
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 131222Z JUN 85
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1657
INFO AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI
AMEMBASSY AMMAN
AMEMBASSY ANKARA
AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
AMEMBASSY KUWAIT
AMEMBASSY LONDON
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
AMEMBASSY PARIS
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
CINCUSAFE RAMSTEIN AB GE
CINCUSNAVEUR LONDON UK
DIA WASHINGTON DC
CIA WASHDC
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 DAMASCUS 03741 
 
TERREP EXCLUSIVE 
 
E.O.12356:  DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PTER, KPAL, KPRP, JO, IS, LE, IS, SY 
SUBJECT:  SYRIA AND TERRORISM 
 
1.  SECRET - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  SUMMARY:  SYRIA CONSIDERS ITSELF A TRUE CONFRONTATION 
STATE--EVERYTHING THAT CONTRIBUTES TO DEFEATING THE 
ENEMY IS POSITIVE.  THE "STRUGGLE" PROVIDES A GUIDE 
FOR CHOOSING THE TARGET AND LEGITIMIZES THE MEANS, 
INCLUDING TERRORISM, WHICH IS VIEWED AS COST-EFFECTIVE. 
SYRIA IS HOST TO PLENTY OF WILLING HELPERS, PRIMARILY 
LARGE NUMBERS OF DISAFFECTED AND RADICALIZED PALESTINIANS, 
BUT ALSO KURDS AND ARMENIANS.  AS LONG AS COMMON FOES 
ARE TARGETED,  SYRIA TOLERATES TERRORIST ACTIONS BY 
OTHERS.  RETALIATION AGAINST SYRIA WOULD HAVE PROBLEMATIC 
EFFECTS, AND PROBABLY WOULD NOT DETER FUTURE TERRORISM. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
3.  SYRIA HAS A RECORD OF SPONSORSHIP OF TERRORISM AND 
A HISTORY OF HARBORING GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS WHO ENGAGE 
IN TERRORIST ACTS.  SYRIA HAS ALSO BEEN A VICTIM OF 
A SUBSTANTIAL NUMBER OF TERRORIST ACTIONS.  SYRIA 
CONSIDERS ITSELF A CONFRONTATION STATE IN THE PURE SENSE-- 
IT IS AT WAR WITH ISRAEL AND EVERYTHING THAT CONTRIBUTES 
TO THE EFFORT TO DEFEAT THE ENEMY IS POSITIVE.  SPECIFIC 
TERRORIST OPERATIONS WILL B MOUNTED OR NOT, ACCORDING 
TO THIS CRITERION. 
 
4.  OTHER ARAB STATES WHOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL IS 
NOT JURIDICALLY ONE OF PEACE DO NOT CONDONE OR PROMOTE 
TERRORISM.  IN THIS MESSAGE WE EXAMINE SOME ASPECTS OF 
SYRIA THAT MAKE IT DIFFERENT. 
 
--------------------------- 
WHAT MAKES SYRIA DIFFERENT? 
--------------------------- 
 
5.  THE BA'THI,  MINORITY GOVERNMENT OF HAFIZ AL-ASAD IS 
BUILT UPON AN IDEOLOGY THAT INCREASINGLY HAS COME TO 
FOCUS ON THE ISSUE OF SYRIA'S ROLE IN CONFRONTING THE 
"ZIONIST ENEMY," ISRAEL.  SYRIA PERCEIVES THAT IT 
STANDS ALONE AMONG THE STATES NEIGHBORING ISRAEL IN 
PROMOTING "REAL" CONFRONTATION, SINCE JORDAN AND EGYPT 
HAVE FALLEN FROM GRACE  INTO "CAPITULATIONISM," LEBANON 
HAS TURNED INWARD, AND IRAQ HAS SHIFTED TOWARDS THE 
ARAB RIGHT.  SYRIA'S REGIONAL ISOLATION--AS A RADICAL 
STATE WITH TIES TO IRAN AND LIBYA--ALSO CONTRIBUTES TO 
THE STRONG SENSE OF UNIQUENESS FELT BY THE SYRIAN LEADER- 
SHIP.  GEOGRAPHY AND DEMOGRAPHY ARE ADDITIONAL FACTORS: 
SYRIA IS STRATEGICALLY PLACED ON THE CROSSROADS OF THE 
LEVANT WITH ACCESS TO AND VULNERABILITY FROM MANY 
COUNTRIES IN THE REGION.  DEMOGRAPHICALLY, SYRIA'S 
POPULATION IS HETEROGENOUS, INCLUDING, FOR EXAMPLE, 
SUBSTANTIAL NUMBERS OF PALESTINIANS, KURDS, AND ARMENIANS. 
THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN SYRIA WHO HAVE 
GRIEVANCES AGAINST SOMEBODY ELSE, SOMEWHERE ELSE. 
 
6.  WHAT REALLY DISTINGUISHES SYRIA, HOWEVER, IS ITS 
CANDID ASSESSMENT THAT TERRORISM IS COST EFFECTIVE. 
IN PART, THIS IS A FUNCTION OF THE DETERRENTS TO ANY 
DIRECT MILITARY ACTION POSED BY SUPERIOR ISRAELI FORCES 
OR ARAB OPINION.  SYRIA IS ALSO NOT THE FIRST REGIME 
TO HAVE DISCOVERED THAT ONE EFFECTIVE WAY OF DEALING 
WITH POLITICAL OPPOSITION IS TO EXTINGUISH IT.  ANOTHER 
FACTOR WHICH WE CANNOT ASSESS PRECISELY IS THE EXTENT 
AND NATURE OF SOVIET SUPPORT FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITIES 
WHICH MAY BE DIRECTED FROM SYRIA.  FOR EXAMPLE, IT IS 
NOT FAR FETCHED TO CONCEIVE OF A SOVIET ROLE IN PROMOTING 
INSURGENT ACTIVITIES INVOLVING THE KURDS AGAINST TURKEY 
OR TERRORIST ACTIVITIES INVOLVING OTHER GROUPS AGAINST 
EUROPEAN TARGETS.  (THE SOVIETS HERE STOUTLY MAINTAIN 
THEIR OPPOSITION TO, AND NON-INVOLVEMENT IN, ANY SUCH 
ACTIVITIES.) 
 
7.  SYRIA DOES NOT LABEL THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE 
ISRAELI ENEMY AS "TERRORISM."  INDEED, IT IS NOT 
POSSIBLE TO DISCUSS WITH MOST AVERAGE SYRIANS THE ISSUE 
OF TERRORISM AGAINST ISRAEL; IT IS CONSIDERED AN 
OXYMORON, I.E., IF AMERICANS FOUGHT TO LIBERATE THEIR 
LAND FROM BRITISH OCCUPIERS, THEN LEBANESE AND 
PALESTINIANS ARE ALSO FREEDOM FIGHTERS, NOT TERRORISTS. 
MOREOVER, SYRIA DEFINES THE "NATIONAL RESISTANCE" 
BROADLY, SO THAT MODERATE ARABS BECOME LEGITIMATE 
TARGETS.  BUT THE OBJNCTIVES ARE ALWAYS THE SAME--UNTIL 
SUCH TIME AS THE ARABS ARE UNITED AND STRONG, SYRIA MUST 
WEAKEN THE ENEMY, DISCOURAGE INDEPENDENT ARAB INITIATIVES, 
AND BLOCK A MODERATE CONSENSUS. 
 
8.  THE TOOLS ARE AVAILABLE.  FOR EXAMPLE, THERE IS NO 
SHORTAGE OF DISAFFECTED, RADICAL PALESTINIANS WHO ARE 
PREPARED TO ACT NOT ONLY AGAINST THE ISRAELIS BUT, 
MORE IMPORTANTLY, AGAINST THE JORDANIANS AND MODERATE 
PALESTINIANS.  THERE ARE WILLING RECRUITS HERE AND 
ELSEWHERE FOR MANY OF THE ACTIONS WHICH COMMONLY ARE 
LABELED SYRIAN-SPONSORED BUT WHICH IN FACT ARE CONDUCTED 
WITHOUT EXPLICIT SYRIAN APPROVAL.  SINCE SYRIA DOES NOT 
GENERALLY OBJECT TO TARGETTING  A COMMON FOE, IT MIGHT, 
THEREFORE, BE MORE APPROPRIATE TO CALL THESE TERRORIST 
ACTIONS SYRIAN-TOLERATED. 
 
--------- 
TARGETS 
--------- 
 
9.  ALMOST ANY TARGET IS "LEGITIMATE."  HOWEVER, THE 
PROBABILITY OF A TERRORIST ACT, AS WELL AS ITS LINKAGE 
TO SYRIA, RISES WITH THE DEGREE OF THE TARGET'S 
ASSOCIATION WITH ISRAEL OR A PEACE PROCESS THAT DOES NOT 
HAVE SYRIAN APPROVAL.  THUS, SYRIA PROBABLY AT WORST 
TOLERATES AND AT BEST IS NOT ABLE TO CONTROL TERRORISM 
SUCH AS THAT BY ARMENIANS OR KURDS AGAINST TURKS.  ON 
THE OTHER HAND, IT COOPERATES ACTIVELY IN TERRORISM 
DIRECTED AGAINST JORDAN, WHEN THE PEACE PROCESS SHOWS LIFE. 
SOMETIMES SYRIA'S HAND IS QUITE DIRECT, AS IN THE CASES 
OF ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATIONS OF MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD 
FIGURES ABROAD AND IN ATTACKS AGAINST IRAQI CITIZENS 
AND FACILITIES.  MORE OFTEN, "FRIENDS" DO THE DIRTY 
WORK.  THUS, THE CRAZY-QUILT OF PALESTINIAN GROUPS IN 
DAMASCUS ALL OCCASIONALLY GET THEIR CHANCE AT THE 
JORDANIANS, FATAH, OR THE ISRAELIS. 
 
-------------- 
RETALIATION 
-------------- 
10.  SINCE THE IDEA OF RETALIATION FOR A TERRORIST ACT 
HAS OCCURRED TO ALL AT SOME POINT, IT IS WORTH CONSIDER- 
ING IN THE CASE OF SYRIA.  OBVIOUSLY, THE GREATEST 
DIFFICULTY IS IN ESTABLISHING SYRIAN COMPLICITY.  THAT 
ASIDE, RETALIATION WOULD MEET HERE WITH A CONTRADICTORY 
RANGE OF EMOTIONS:  IT WOULD BE UNDERSTOOD IN TYPICALLY 
MIDDLE EAST FASHION, BUT IT WOULD NOT DETER, BECAUSE 
FOR THOSE WHO WOULD UNDERTAKE TERRORIST ACTIONS THI 
CAUSE AND THEIR DEDICATION TO IT ARE PARAMOUNT.  MORE- 
OVER, FAILURE OF A RETALIATORY ACTION COULD BE 
DISASTROUS.  U.S. POLICY WOULD HAVE TO BE PERCEIVED TO 
BE DIRECT, ACCURATE, AND EFFECTIVE.  (THE IMAGE OF U.S. 
ABILITY TO RESPOND IS THREATENED BY OUR PRESUMED ASSOCIA- 
TION WITH EVENTS SUCH AS THE BIR AL-ABID CAR BOMBING IN 
WEST BEIRUT, NOT TO MENTION THE DECEMBER 1983 AIR STRIKE 
IN THE BIQA' WHICH RESULTED IN CAPTURE OF A U.S. FLYER.) 
FINALLY, RETALIATION IS A FAVORITE ISRAELI POLICY WHICH 
MOST TERRORIST ANALYSTS ACKNOWLEDGE HAS NEVER WORKED. 
THE U.S. COULD END UP ADDING TO THE PROBLEM BY FURTHER 
ALIENATING ARAB OPINION. 
 
11.  WE HAVE NOT TOUCHED UPON THE QUESTION OF PREEMPTION 
BECAUSE IN OUR VIEW, GIVEN SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE, 
PREEMPTION WOULD SEEM TO BE LOGICAL AND NECESSARY IF IT 
IS POSSIBLE. 
 
12.  FINALLY, IRANIAN- AND LIBYAN-SPONSORED TERRORISM, 
WHICH TAINTS SYRIA BY ASSOCIATION, IS NOT NECESSARILY 
APPROVED OR EVEN CONDONED BY SYRIA.  A GOOD EXAMPLE IS 
HOSTAGE-TAKING IN LEBANON.  THERE IS LITTLE SYRIA CAN 
DO TO PREVENT SUCH ACTIONS WITHOUT PAYING A HIGH PRICE 
IN OTHER NATIONAL INTERESTS.  SYRIA COULD DO MUCH MORE, 
WE BELIEVE, TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEM OF HOSTAGES AFTER THEY 
ARE TAKEN, BUT PREVENTION OF INDIVIDUAL TERRORIST ACTS 
SUCH AS THOSE OCCURRING NOW IN BEIRUT, IS PROBABLY NOT 
POSSIBLE FOR SYRIA. 
 
13.  BEIRUT MINIMIZE CONSIDERED. 
 
 
GLASPIE 

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