Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Have the Syrians not heard it all before? Imad Mustafa ... Again ...

A comprehensive bull deal, ... A village here, ... An umbrella there, and the Syrians are supposed to bite again? Return the Golan? No! Then this is boring recycled ballooney...
"On September 27, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conferred with her Syrian counterpart Walid Mouallem on the sidelines of a UN meeting in New York. And two weeks earlier, U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell met with President Bashar al-Asad in Damascus. This latest flurry of diplomatic activity seems aimed at convincing Syria to abstain from playing a spoiler's role ..... Washington is floating the prospect of a U.S.-led "comprehensive peace" that would include Syria and Lebanon, contingent on Asad constraining Syrian-based Palestinian rejectionist groups.......  the looming prospect of an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation and fallout from the ongoing Hariri assassination tribunal may spur Asad to welcome the notion of becoming a "peace partner."...
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the heightened tensions, Israel and Syria have many reasons to resume talks (yaaawn..) whether indirect or direct, public or secret. Tactically, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may view such talks as a complementary track to the Palestinian process, circumventing traditional spoilers such as Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Alternatively, he could follow Israel's model from the 1990s, using Syria as a competing track in order to pressure the Palestinians into continuing good-faith negotiations.
For its part, Syria is facing a showdown with the International Atomic Energy Agency ....
Both countries have strategic reasons to return to the table as well. Amid the slow erosion of the March 14 coalition's influence in Lebanon, members of Israel's defense establishment increasingly see a peace treaty with Syria as a way to contain Hizballah's expanding influence in Lebanon. Although the details of this strategy are unknown, the conventional Israeli wisdom is that a treaty would force Syria to end its arms transfers to the group. As for Damascus, the regime is keen to enhance and legitimize its influence in Lebanon, and a peace treaty could facilitate that goal, especially if it stipulated a Syrian role vis-a-vis Hizballah.
Meanwhile, the mediator's role remains in flux. With the decline in Israel-Turkey relations, Washington -- led by Mitchell's coordinator for regional affairs, Frederic Hof -- has stepped into the breach. France is eyeing a potential leadership role as well, recently appointing former ambassador to Syria Jean-Claude Cousseran as its Middle East peace envoy.
Decision Time for Asad?
On September 16, on the heels of Mitchell's latest trip to Damascus, a senior U.S. official told the Christian Science Monitor, "If Hamas succeeds [in scuttling the Palestinian talks], the prospects for eventual Syria-Israel talks are zero." Accordingly, Washington is currently focusing on how Damascus balances its ties with Hamas and Hizballah in order to gauge Asad's intentions.
While Hamas marked the renewed peace process with attacks on Israeli civilians and rocket fire, the official Syrian reaction to the talks has thus far been muted. This weekend, however, Damascus hosted Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks, after which Hamas leader Khaled Mashal urged President Mahmoud Abbas to walk away from the table following Sunday's expiration of Israel's settlement moratorium. This approach suggests that Damascus has returned to its old strategy of straddling the diplomatic fence on questions of war and peace.
If Abbas continues the negotiations, however, then Damascus may yet be tempted to make different choices. One key test in the coming months will be whether Syria continues to provide sophisticated weaponry and training to Hizballah. Another test concerns the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Tensions in Lebanon have spiked over an apparent Hizballah effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri if he does not end Lebanese participation in the STL, which is widely expected to indict Hizballah members for Rafiq Hariri's assassination. Will Damascus allow the tribunal to proceed or side with Hizballah?(yaaaaaaawn)
Asad's choices on Hamas and Hizballah will take place against the backdrop of the Iranian nuclear issue. The United States hopes that progress between Israel and Syria would further isolate Iran. Asad's calculus has yet to be revealed.(on that note, i go to bed, leaving Tabler & Winep guessing the obvious!)
In an interview appearing in today's Wall Street Journal, Foreign Minister Mouallem downplayed the prospects of renewed talks with Israel and voiced opposition to many of Washington's regional initiatives. Previously, Syria had showed signs of changing tack after a year of making little headway with the Obama administration. For example, during Mitchell's talks in Damascus, the regime excluded Ambassador Imad Mustafa, who had been blamed for past diplomatic miscues and is prone to unhelpful triumphalist comments. Yet Mouallem's comments seem a setback to progress."

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