Posted by Joshua on Sunday, December 5th, 2010
The Washington Post runs two alarmist articles about Syria. Janine Zacharia claims “that U.S. interest in Syria was mostly limited to coaxing it to make peace with Israel.” She goes on to suggest that Syria is refusing to do this. She ignores Bashar al-Assad’s declaration that the Golan “is our Issue.” Somehow she manages to blame the failure of Israel to make peace with Syria on Damascus. After all, it is Israel that refuses to comply with international law on the Golan issue and not Syria. Assad has made it clear that he will change his relationship to Israel’s enemies – Hamas and Hizbullah – if Israel complies with UN resolution 242 and international law. Senator John Kerry recognized this and argued that the Golan issue was key and “must be returned to Syria.” For this obvious observation, Kerry has been attacked as an enemy of Israel and “an Enemy of Peace in the Mideast.” Unfortunately, Zacharia promotes this interpretation that Syria is the enemy of peace. The Washington Post continues to move to the right. Anthony Shadid would never have been so partisan. [JL]
A Resurgent Syria Alarms U.S., Israel
Janine Zacharia: (worked as the Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post. She also writes for The New Republic and makes regular appearances on MSNBC and PBS’s Washington Week. She speaks Hebrew fluently.)
(c) 2010, The Washington Post
BEIRUT – Syria’s fresh interference in Lebanon and its increasingly sophisticated weapons shipments to Hezbollah have alarmed American officials and prompted Israel’s military to consider a strike against a Syrian weapons depot that supplies the Lebanese militia group, U.S. and Israeli officials say.
The evidence of a resurgence by Syria and its deepening influence across the region has frustrated U.S. officials who sought to change Syrian behavior. But the Obama administration has so far failed through its policy of engagement to persuade the country to abandon its support for Hezbollah and sever its alliance with Iran.
“Syria’s behavior has not met our hopes and expectations over the past 20 months, and Syria’s actions have not met its international obligations,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Lebanese daily an-Nahar on Nov. 10. “Syria can still choose another path and we hope that it does.”
Israel has complained to the United Nations about long-range missiles and shorter-range rockets that are flowing freely from camps inside Syria to a transit site along the Syrian border with Lebanon and on to Hezbollah. But Israel has so far hesitated to take military action out of concern that such a strike could touch off a conflict even bloodier than the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, said an Israeli military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In the past, U.S. interest in Syria was mostly limited to coaxing it to make peace with Israel and to end its rule in Lebanon. But now it is increasingly clear that Syria – with its pivotal alliance with Iran and its strategic borders with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq – has the ability to shape regional developments on a broader scale.
The Obama administration’s efforts at dialogue with Syria have done little to stop the flow of weapons, end Syria’s practice of sheltering Palestinian leaders of militant groups, or counter Syria’s interference in Lebanon, which has undermined the U.S. effort to promote Lebanese independence from external actors.
Although President Barack Obama has named a new ambassador to Syria, his appointment is being held up on Capitol Hill by senators who say they do not want to send a new envoy to Damascus until the U.S. better articulates how having an ambassador there would help achieve U.S. goals.
Without a permanent top diplomat in the Syrian capital, U.S. envoys including Middle East peace mediator George Mitchell; the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have flown to Damascus to try to persuade Syrian leaders to take steps to improve relations with the United States, which hit a low point in 2005.
That year, President George W. Bush, in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s ouster in Iraq, warned Syria to stop the flow of foreign fighters across its border into Iraq, prompting fears in Damascus of a U.S. effort to topple Syria’s leadership. Massive anti-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. Syria’s relations with regional allies soured.
Today, there are clear signs that the country has emerged stronger than before.
While the United States maintains sanctions against Syria, American allies such as India and Turkey have inked trade deals with Damascus in recent months that undercut the American effort to change Syrian behavior through economic pressure.
Syria is playing a role in Iraq. In September, a parade of Iraqi politicians flocked to Damascus seeking advice on forming a government.
And Syria’s highly valued alliance with Iran remains strong, to the dismay of U.S. officials who, as the WikiLeaks cables show, have hoped to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, in part to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.
Nevertheless, Syria’s support of Hezbollah remains robust.
But it is in Lebanon that Syria’s regional resurgence has been felt most profoundly. And Lebanon is also where U.S. officials worry most that its pro-democracy allies are losing ground to pro-Syrian and Iranian elements.
Hadi Mahfouz, a Lebanese government official and writer, says Syria is more effectively managing Lebanese affairs from afar than when it had 15,000 troops inside the country. “It is immune from mistakes,” he said.
Wiam Wahab, a pro-Syrian Druze politician and former Lebanese cabinet minister, says Washington must resolve its differences with Syria if the United States wants to stymie Iran’s influence in Lebanon. “Does the U.S. prefer Syria or Iran” to be running affairs in Lebanon, he asked.
Many Lebanese, especially those in the Christian and Sunni communities, still oppose any Syrian role in Lebanese affairs.
Lebanon’s top security positions – the head of military intelligence and director of general security – are controlled by Syrian-approved appointees. The government can’t make many major decisions without first consulting with Damascus. Lebanon’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, toe a pro-Syrian line.
But the clearest example of Syria’s restored influence may be Walid Jumblatt. Five years ago, Jumblatt, a well-known Druze politician whose party holds swing votes in Lebanon’s coalition government, marched with the pro-democracy March 14 movement against Syria’s occupation. He now describes that period as a momentary lapse of sanity.
“I feel much more comfortable now. I’m back to my roots,” Jumblatt said in an interview last month.
Jumblatt expresses gratitude that Syria re-established order at the end of the Lebanese civil war and suggests that Syria’s military may need to take over the country again if Hezbollah is indicted by an international tribunal investigating the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the country deteriorates into sectarian strife.
“It seems that, well, we cannot govern ourselves by ourselves,” Jumblatt said. “Lebanon is not a nation. It’s a bunch of tribes.”
News World Congress Politics Diplomacy Government and politics International relations AP
The Syrian boast that “it is skilled in negotiating with the Americans,” quoted in the following story by Michael Gordon, was probably made over a decade ago, when Hafiz al-Assad ruled Syria. Bashar al-Assad must believe the same thing, but so what? If this is the most damning quote Gordan can scrape together to suggest that Syria is flexing its muscle in Iraq, he has nothing new or damning. Syria has improved its relations with Maliki. Syria returned an ambassador to Iraq long before most of its neighbors did.desire to see Shiites take their rightful role in leading Iraq. It also joins the US in calling for greater Sunni power sharing in Iraq. Syria has given Baathist Iraqis refuge in Syria. This has saved many from being assassinated by Iraqi vigilantes that US troops have failed to restrain in Iraq. Afterall, the US has even been unable to keep vigilantes from massacring Iraq’s Christian community, which only gave passive support to Saddam Hussein. Syria has also given them refuge. Michael Gordon doesn’t have anything new against Syria. He just repeats the the 2009 Maliki accusation that Syria was behind a massive car bomb in Baghdad – an accusation made in the heat of the election campaign. There was no proof that Syria had a hand in or supported the bombing. Turkey and other neighbors discounted this accusation as politically motivated. [JL] Since this accusation was made, both Syria and Maliki have worked diligently to patch up their relations and move toward economic cooperation and health mutual cooperation. Syria is not undermining the Iraqi state. It is quite clear that Iraqi authorities believe that America’s ally, Saudi Arabia, is Maliki’s greatest detractor and the biggest danger to the US policy of supporting the development of central authority. Gordon does not suggest that Saudis are funding or arming al-Qaida in Iraq in order to pressure Maliki or undermine central authority, which is a good thing. Syria’s greatest sin during the long months it took Iraq to form a new government after the elections was to act as a go-between for Saudi Arabia and Iran – a positive contribution to regional diplomacy. [JL]
Meddling by Neighbors Adds to Iraq’s Woes
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
….“The challenge for us is to convince Iraq neighbors, particularly the Sunni Arab governments, that relations with a new Iraq are not a zero-sum game, where if Iraq wins, they lose,” noted a Sept. 24, 2009, cable from Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, which was aptly titled “The Great Game, in Mesopotamia.” American diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks show that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s fears about outside interference are so great that he asked President Obama during a July 2009 visit to Washington to stop the Saudis from intervening. Saudi Arabia’s efforts to rally the Sunnis, the Iraqi leader complained, were heightening sectarian tensions and providing Iran with an excuse to intervene in Iraqi politics, according to an account of the Oval Office session Mr. Maliki shared with Ambassador Hill.
The suspicions have often been mutual. “I don’t trust this man,” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, according to a cable about a March 15, 2009, meeting at the king’s private palace in Saudi Arabia. “He is an Iranian agent.”
Jockeying for influence in Iraq by outside countries has been going on ever since Mr. Hussein was ousted, hardly surprising given Iraq’s strategic position in the Middle East, its vast oil reserves, its multisectarian population and the fact that it is a nascent, if unsteady, democracy largely surrounded by undemocratic neighbors.
The Iranians, who waged a bloody eight-year war with Mr. Hussein, have no desire to see a strong Iraq emerge from the ashes of his regime, especially one that has ties with the United States.
So they have sought to influence its politics by funneling cash to Iraqi political factions, ordering assassinations and shipping arms to militants, some of which an Oct. 23, 2008, cable from Dubai warned might be disguised as Red Crescent medical supplies. The Saudis, who see Iran as the principal threat in the region, have used their control of satellite television and deep pockets to support Sunni groups. Syria, which Iraqi leaders have repeatedly complained to American diplomats is dominated by a Baathist regime unduly sympathetic to the ousted Baathists in Iraq, has allowed insurgent fighters to sneak into Iraq. Even Turkey, which has good relations with the Iraqi government, has secretly financed nationalist and anti-Kurdish Sunni political parties.
Some leading Iraqi politicians have tried to cast themselves as the right ones to resist Iranian influence and help Iraq improve ties with its Arab neighbors.
Ayad Allawi, who leads the Iraqiya Party, has emphasized his relationship with Arab leaders while his supporters have cast Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party supporters as fearful of interacting with the Arab world, the cables show. Mr. Maliki’s aides have presented themselves and their boss as being more savvy about resisting Iranian pressure than many of their rivals — if only the Americans can keep the Saudis in line.
Iran, by the United States’ reckoning, has done the most to try to shape Iraqi politics. A Nov. 13, 2009, cable sent by Ambassador Hill, which called Iran “a dominant player in Iraq’s electoral politics,” estimated that Iran’s annual support to political groups in Iraq was $100 million to $200 million. Some $70 million of that, the cable asserts, is directed to the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq, a leading Shiite party that has also worked closely with American officials, and its former militia, the Badr Corps. ….
Like the Iranians, the Saudis have not hesitated to use their money and political influence inside Iraq, according to American diplomats. “For now the Saudis are using their money and media power (al-Arabiyya, al-Sharqiya satellite channels, and other various media they control or influence) to support Sunni political aspirations, exert influence over Sunni tribal groups, and undercut the Shia-led Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Iraqi National Alliance (INA),” Ambassador Hill’s “Great Game” cable noted. ….
In a December 2009 meeting with Jeffrey D. Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, Mr. Maliki, who lived in Syria for 16 years during Mr. Hussein’s rule, described the Syrian leaders as more difficult to deal with than the Iranians and recounted that the Syrians had boasted to him during his years in exile that they were skilled in negotiating with the Americans, according to a cable about the meeting.
Of all Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey has forged one of the best working relations with the Iraqi government and with Kurdish officials in northern Iraq.