A series of elongated folds known as the Syrian arc fold belt developed throughout the Levant region alongside the Tethys closure. This compressional belt followed a preexisting extensional belt that had formed 100–200 m.y. earlier alongside the Tethys opening. Here we analyze a series of Syrian arc–type folds deeply buried in the Levant Basin 50–200 km away from the onshore Syrian arc mountain ridge. The continuous stratigraphic section in the Levant Basin provides a complete record of folding, which is incomplete onshore. We show that folding continued 80 m.y. in the same direction regardless of major tectonic processes that occurred in the surrounding areas. During this period, Africa rotated ∼20° counterclockwise and started colliding with Eurasia, Arabia broke off Africa, and subduction initiated under Cyprus. But despite all of these surrounding processes, the direction of folding in the Levant remained nearly constant (relative to Africa). We suggest that the main control on folding direction is inherited extensional structures formed along Africa’s margin during Tethys opening and that continuously rotate with it. However, the surrounding tectonic processes, which had minor influence on folding direction, did affect folding intensity and its spatial distribution. Folding ceased in the northwest part of the basin in the Oligocene, peaked in the entire basin during the early Miocene coeval with the Red Sea–Gulf of Suez rifting and convergence of Arabia with Eurasia, and has gradually decreased since the late Miocene, concurrently with the major activity along the Dead Sea transform.