Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
Lebanon: Qifa Nabki provides an assessment of Syrian relations with Lebanon and the region for 2009 [We will add more as they come in…. Please add your contribution to the comment section of this post. We will review relations with each of Syria’s neighbors and with the states that have a large impact on it. Comments should be directed toward one particular section so that they will fit into the overall structure of the post without lots of repetition.]
I think that the Syrian government had a good year, as far as its relations with Lebanon were concerned. The parliamentary elections ended with a pretty ideal result: a win for March 14, followed by the self-destruction of March 14. This meant that Syria did not have figure out how to run pass coverage for what would have surely been portrayed in the Western media as a “Hizbullah government”. At the same time, though, the defection of Jumblatt and the general fractiousness of the remaining coalition partners meant that M14 no longer posed a credible threat to Syrian interests.
The formation of a national unity government — enfranchising the Doha Accord as the new powersharing mechanism in Lebanon, at least for the time being — formalized the stop-gap mechanism that Syria has sought, with regard to the weapons of Hizbullah.
The rapprochement with Saudi Arabia seems to have inaugurated a new agreement over Lebanon. It’s not quite a condominium like the one that existed from 1990-2004, but the two countries seem to have agreed to stop making life difficult for each other in Beirut, in exchange for cooperating on matters like Iraq.
It’s not clear what Syria’s long-term aim is for the Lebanese file. Some believe that it wants nothing less than to re-establish control over Lebanon, albeit without having the expense of keeping its army posted there. Others say that its interests in Lebanon are purely instrumental: using Hizbullah as a card in its effort to regain the Golan, and in its bid for greater regional clout.
What’s clear to me is that Syria is trying to diversify its relationships in the region, distributing its eggs from the “axis of resistance” basket (Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas) to other players. This does not amount to a potential “flip”, as the State Department is hoping for, unrealistically. Those allies remain too valuable to Damascus. But as Tehran looks increasingly vulnerable and the credibility of the regime there is challenged, Syria’s cache as an interlocutor diminishes. This is where its relations with Turkey make much more sense, as does its rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.