Sunday, July 26, 2009

How far is Syria ready to go to appease the US?

In the JPOst, here

"...... But it has yet to show signs of a real policy shift vis a vis its ally Iran or its leading proxies. And just how far Syria, which wants to be acknowledged as a key player in the region, is willing to go to appease the United States has yet to be seen.

In fact, the anti-US Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is very close to Iran, visited Damascus last week reportedly to strengthen relations with Iraqi resistance groups.

"I don't see any major changes on Bashar's part," Andrew Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post last week. "And whatever changes there are, [they] are very incremental and very hard for the US to pick up."

Others, however, argue that Syria's recent behavior can be considered an attempt to keep some distance from the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Syrian regime, for example, did not interfere in Lebanon's hotly contested June 7 elections, which resulted in a victory for the Western-backed March 14 coalition over the Hizbullah-led opposition, says Abdel Monem Said Aly, director of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. ... "Certainly, some of it can be seen as a distance from Teheran, not a big distance, but a distance [nonetheless] can be noticed," Said Aly said.

As part of its approach to cautious, critical engagement with Syria, Obama's administration announced in June that it will restore an ambassador to Damascus after a four year hiatus following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. But despite last month's announcement, the US has yet to name an ambassador. Security arrangements involving foreign fighters in Iraq have yet to be adhered to. And in neighboring Lebanon, where Syria still wields influence, the March 14 coalition and the Hizbullah-led opposition have yet to form a government more than six weeks after the country's general elections.

"This all indicates to me that there are still a lot of bones of contention between Syria and the US," and even within the US administration on how to best deal with Syria, said Prof. Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma....

"What I think is they want to be able to get the Golan [Heights] back in exchange for some sort of change in their relationship with Iran, which is not described, and where they can politically support Hizbullah and Hamas but perhaps without supplying them" militarily, Tabler said.

This strategy, however, is complicated by parliamentary moves in Israel that would require a referendum to withdraw from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the Six Day War.

"The question is: Are Israelis the kind of people that will give back the Golan [in a peace agreement] for a maybe?" Tabler said. "Probably not. I can't see it."


Anonymous said...

Yeah I would probably agree with Joshua Landis since he really knows his stuff regarding Syria.

There does seem to be some pretty heavy diplomacy going on in Syria seems every week the Obama Admin is sending some State or Defence department figure to Syria for meetings.

Also the recent pressure for Saudi Arabia to send an Ambassador to Syria which the Saudi's seem cold on.

As regards Israel obviously they are not a people known for giving back land lightly. Syria been offering peace in exchange for the Golan for a long time now.

If Israel were to agree to this deal now I think it would indicate that Israel is serious about attacking Iran and just wants to get there neighbours on board for it.

Al Sadr being sent to Syria is probably a move from Iran to see where the landscape. Either way the ball appears to be in Syria's court.


Skeptical Senior Founding Member of the FLC said...

Landis is splitting hairs. I think his info and sources in Syria have dried up and much of his analysis is a mixed bag of facts, wishful thinking, and pure speculation. Syria is more than willing at improving its relations with the world but not at the expenses of major principles, such as the return of the Golan Heights and a just solution to the Palestinians that will include unequivocally the right of return. As to its strategic alliance with Iran, if it were to drop it or cool it, who in his right mind thinks that the West will 'reward' Syria. The West has been notorious in taking, then taking again, and finally taking without giving. A bruised West in the region is not likely to give anything.