With no nation, except Iran, openly supporting Islamic terrorists, most of the counter-terror action against terrorist hideouts is now taking place in the shadows. That means countries like Syria and Sudan, who used to provide hospitality for Islamic terrorists, but now insist they don't, are still in play. The problem is that there are still a lot of Islamic charities and religious organizations in places like Syria and Sudan that resist close scrutiny. The government won't allow foreign investigators to get too close, but indications from outside the country mark some of these outfits as fronts for Islamic terrorist operations. One example is the "Al Fatah Islamic Institute" in Syria. Captured terrorists in Iraq provide bits of evidence about charities like this, but attempts to get close enough to make a decisive case (one that would force the Syrians to shut it down) have been unsuccessful. The Syrians, and to a lesser extent, the Sudanese, have been playing this game for years. Saddam Hussein was a player as well.
About the only visible signs that a battle is going on here, is when there is another news story of the United States threatening, negotiating or "cooperating" with Syria or Sudan. Diplomats do most of heavy lifting here, with the CIA running around in the background trying to gather evidence. Now the Department of Defense is involved in the intel end as well, with Special Forces teams being sent in as spies, or out in the bush, along the borders, seeking more embarrassing evidence. The Syrians cover their tracks exceptionally well, as they have been doing it since the 1970s. But their defenses are getting weaker.
While most Arab nations have long been hospitable to Islamic charities and religious organizations, even if some of them did have unsavory sidelines, this has changed since 2003. In that year, al Qaeda decided to bring the war back home, and that caused the welcome wagon to get put up on blocks and out of action. Syria and Sudan apparently still do it mainly for the money. There are so few places left where al Qaeda can even bribe their way into a sanctuary situation. However, there are still lots of wealthy Moslems, with a grudge against the infidels (non-Moslems) and willing to write checks to finance mayhem and murder. But the rest of the world has changed. Terrorism isn't as fashionable and tolerated as it used to be.
Iran is a special case. Although tolerant, and supportive, of Islamic terror, Iran is handicapped by it adherence to a minority sect of Islam. The Iranians are Shia Moslems, while over 80 percent of Moslems follow the Sunni version. So when Iranians boast of their plan to make the entire world Moslem, most Moslems get nervous. They know the Iranians are talking about Shia Islam taking over the world. That is very distasteful to Sunni Moslems. The Iranians have other problems as well. While they talk a tough game, there are plenty of more prudent Islamic clerics who try to restrain the more radical ones. So while Iran has supported the Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon for decades, and some Palestinian groups of late, Iran has not gotten behind international terrorism in a big way. The reason is pragmatic. Any spectacular terrorist success, that was traced back to Iran, could result in real damage being inflicted on Iran. The invasion of Iraq emphasized that point. Of course, Iran wants nuclear weapons, as a form of insurance against retaliation. No one is sure this will work, but all Iranians agree that having nukes is the way to go.
But Iranian nukes does not make al Qaeda, and other Sunni Arab terrorist groups, happy at all. While Iranian radicals provide some support to al Qaeda, they do it through clenched teeth. While the Iranian terrorist supporters like to stick it to the Americans, they cannot avoid the fact that al Qaeda wants to kill Iranian terrorists, and convert Iran, by force if need be, to the Sunni way of thinking.
So Syria, and to a lesser extent, Sudan, become one of the few places where Islamic terrorists can open up an office (as an Islamic charity or whatever) and go about their business. That explains the occasional story out of Washington, hinting darkly about getting rough with Syria or Sudan.