More Calls to Engage Syria
TALKING TO SYRIA....There are still plenty of nay-sayers, but the chorus calling for Syrian involvement in crafting a Lebanon ceasefire solution now includes Richard Armitage, Warren Christopher, and Mr. Flat World himself, Tom Friedman.A number of Israeli analysts are writing that "without some positive inducement, it is unlikely that Syria will be persuaded to mend its ways, and will instead remain a major source of instability in the region." This line comes from a recent WINEP (Washington Institute for Near East Policy) report written by Barak Ben-Zur and Christopher Hamilton. It is a major shift for WINEP. Its director, Rob Satloff has been a consitant supporter of the don't-reward-Syria school. Another Israeli analyst is David Kimche, one of the two Kimche brothers who have been at the heart of Israeli foreign policy for decades. He migrated to Palestine from London and fought in the 1948 war. A former Deputy Head of Mossad, he was Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry from 1980 to 1987.
The idea isn't limited to diplomacy's backseat drivers. With the notable exception of France (which is trying to seduce Syria's closest ally, Iran), most EU governments believe the path to peace runs through Damascus. In the same way that the U.S. is the only party that can influence Israel to stop the bombing, they say, then like it or not, Syria is the only actor with the clout — and the willingness — to do the same on the other side. European and Arab ministers have been shuttling in and out of Damascus for days now. The Spanish foreign minister met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad yesterday, and his German counterpart — who spent several days chatting up officials here — has already laid out the outlines of a deal that could simultaneously end the current conflict, get Syria out of the diplomatic doghouse, and pry it loose from the Iranian death grip.
For their part, the Syrians say they're ready to play ball. Officials I've spoken with here in Damascus say the regime is ready to help convince Hezbollah to sign on to an immediate ceasefire and enter sincere prisoner exchange negotiations that could return the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers. They'd also like to return to talks with Israel over a permanent land-for-peace deal. It's far from a perfect plan — there's plenty here that won't play particularly well in Washington or Jerusalem — but it's a decent starting point. Even a growing cadre of Israeli analysts seem to think that now is the moment to draw Syria out of the international isolation.
Pry Syria Away from Iran
By David Kimche
August 4, 2006
Jerusalem Post, Israel
Condoleezza'a New Middle East: Are talks with Syria part the recipe?
Robert Rabil of WINEP is also very concerned that Syria's allies in Lebanon may come out winners should Lebanon's pro-American government be voted out of office because its mentors in Washington refused to protect Lebanon from Israel's fury. To avoid this outcome he recommends that only a strong foreign force can bolster the present government.
... For starters, we should be demanding a second international "Madrid" peace conference to regulate our relations with our northern neighbors and to reactivate the multi-national groupings created after the first "Madrid."
The joker in the Middle Eastern pack of cards is Syria - Syrian President Bashar Assad is a dictator, yet for us in Israel a secular dictator is preferable to a democratically elected fundamentalist Muslim fanatic. He is one of the three ultra-weak leaders who are impinging on our present strategic situation - Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanese Fuad Saniora and Bashar Assad.
In the past few years, his weakness was considered sufficient reason not to deal with him. "Why should we negotiate with the Syrians and give up territory when they are too weak to threaten us?" was the understandable reasoning behind our refusal to answer Bashar's repeated offers to sit down with us and negotiate peace.
Syria is an integral part of our present problem in the North, but it could become part of the solution to that problem. It is the weak link in the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbullah axis. Without Syria, the Iranians would find it vastly more difficult to support its surrogate army in Lebanon. With Syria firmly in the axis, they can, through the Syrians, go a long way to undermining any agreement reached replacing the old order in south Lebanon with a multinational force. The international community will find it very difficult to establish such a force without at least the tacit agreement of Hezbullah, and its attitude will depend to a large extent on the stand taken by the Syrians.
Weak as it is, Syria still has the capacity to throw a spanner in the works and make the aftermath to the fighting much more difficult for us.
Our refusal to have anything to do with the Syrians is, to a large extent, an extension of American policy toward Damascus. President Bush has, time and again, made it very clear that the Syrian regime is not his preferred flavor of the month. In his eyes, the Syrians aid and abet terror, and for him, very correctly so, there is no worse crime than that. Yet not so long ago the Libyans were in exactly the same situation, and today the Stars and Stripes fly proudly and defiantly over the newly reopened American Embassy in the Libyan capital.
The Syrians would dearly like to mend their fences with the Americans and emerge from their present isolation. They would have to pay a heavy price - close their frontier with Iraq, eject the Iraqi insurgents harboring inside Syria, expel Khaled Mashal and his cronies from Damascus, stop arming Hezbullah and cut their links with Teheran. A tall order? Not necessarily, especially not if it would help them to extricate themselves from the ongoing investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Their preferred route for reengaging the US is to start talking with Israel.
Should we? Can we pick up the Syrian gauntlet? Only within a package deal involving the United States, and Lebanon. The Americans must first be persuaded that prying Syria away from the clutches of Iran is an objective worth pursuing. The advantages
for us are manifest: defusing the dangerous Iranian-led axis in the North, expelling the Hamas and Jihad extremists from Damascus, paving the way for relations with the rest of the Arab world. There is, of course, the Golan. Successive prime ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, had been willing to compromise our position on the Golan for the sake of peace with Syria. Future negotiations with the weak Assad could probably produce better results for us than previous efforts.
As we enter the last stages of this present war, we must face the challenge of the political and diplomatic aftermath and make sure that we are not, yet once more, in a situation where we win military battles but lose the political ones coming in their wake. The fighting that Hezbullah provoked is creating an opportunity for change, providing we think big and know what to demand. Let us not miss this opportunity.
He fears that "Hizballah [will] employ its “projected victory” in a postconflict Lebanon to change the political equation" in its favor. Hizbullah's allies, he writes, "are preparing for a political comeback in a postconflict Lebanon by riding the wave of the victory Hizballah is sure to claim whatever the outcome."
To this effect, a number of politicians who hope to bring down the Hariri led, pro-American parliamentary leadership are seeking to
"undermine Siniora’s plan and thus potentially lead to the collapse of Siniora’s government. At a time when France has been trying to help set up an international force, which some countries have already expressed reservations to join, President Emile Lahoud lambasted the idea as a “new French Mandate over Lebanon.” He also implied that French and American troops could become targets by stating that “he does not want to see the 1982 bombings repeated,” a reference to suicide bombings against the French and American troops who were then part of a multinational force to pacify Beirut.Rabil calls for a strong foreign force to stop this eventuality. He entitles his article "Why a Multinational Force is Essential in Lebanon."
At the same time, Aounist leader Michel Aoun called for an emergency government to replace Siniora’s government, and pro-Syrian leader Suleiman Franjieh announced that the March 14 coalition had been defeated and called upon them to recognize their defeat. He also supported Aoun’s call for an emergency government.
All these activities are related to Hizballah’s plan to capitalize on its Pyrrhic victory in postconflict Lebanon; Hizballah seeks to change the country’s political equation by strengthening its pro-Syrian allies and depriving the March 14 coalition of the political capital it needs to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
He concludes his article by quoting Walid Jumblat's warning that US and Israel medicine are killing the patient and turning Lebanon into a failed state:
"Jumblat said, “We will be a weak state next to a very strong militia. Our government will be like the government of Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] next to Hamas—or maybe worse, like the government of [Nouri al-] Maliki in Iraq.”In order to avoid this weak-state ending, Rabil insists the foreign cavalry must sound their bugles and ride in from stage left to kill the Indians and save the nice people of the Lebanese north.
This is all very confusing. First, we must doubt whether Lebanon is a good stand in for the American West. Second, in most of the movies produced by WINEP, Israel is the cavalry coming to kill the Indians. But Rabil doubts the Israelis are going to fix things, so he wants the Israeli cavalry replaced by the French cavalry. This isn't the plot-line of most Westerns I have seen. I doubt there will be any cavalry. Better for the Hariri people to fix up their relations with Aoun and Lebanon's Shiite leaders so that neither side looks at the other as savage Indians - that way there will be no need for cavalry. It might even be a recipe for a democracy where half the population is not restrained at the point of a gun.