So, is Bashar al-Assad’s Syria a partner to be praised or potential predator to be contained? The US may have said they were “grateful” Syrian security forces fortuitously saved its Damascus embassy today, but Syria remains close to President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil”, has been a US-designated “sponsor of terrorism” for over 25 years, and relations between the two have rarely been as strained. Rent-a-crowds regularly fill the streets of Damascus, choreographed by the authorities Iran-style, to denounce US policies, and support Iraqi, Palestinian, and Hizbollah militants. Some have hinted darkly that Syria’s secret services are so deeply-rooted no such attack could have escaped their early attention, and that all militant groups granted sanctuary in Syria are kept on a tight leash by the regime, despite the recent gunplay.
The recent crisis in Lebanon, insists Bush, could have been avoided if Syria had cut its support for Hizbollah, but after his father brought Syria onside in the first Gulf war and relations with the US warmed, the second Gulf war and invasion of Iraq has severely worsened things, and also driven Syria closer to Iran. Today Damascus struggles under a US export and air travel embargo. The embassy attack may lead to a reward for Syria, or even deeper suspicions in Washington.