Droughts are often suspected to increase the risk of violent conflict through agricultural production shocks, and existing studies often explore these links through meteorological proxies. In Syria, an alleged agricultural collapse caused by drought is assumed to have contributed to increased migration and the conflict outbreak in 2011. Here we use satellite derived cropland and climate data to study land use dynamics in relation to drought and conflict in Syria. We show that claims of an agricultural collapse cannot be substantiated as croplands saw a fast recovery after the 2007–2009 drought. Our study highlights the importance of considering land-use dynamics for understanding linkages between meteorological droughts, agricultural impacts, migration and conflict. Furthermore, our results suggest that the influential drought-migration-conflict narrative for Syria needs to be reexamined, with implications for wider discussions of how climate change might alter conflict risk.