Posted by Joshua on Thursday, October 4th, 2007
Michael Young finally talks some sense on Syria in his latest article: Corner Syria at the Annapolis conference. He suggests including Syria in the "Peace Conference" to be held in Annapolis. He argues that Lebanon may possibly be able to gain Syrian compliance on various UN resolutions in exchange for the Golan Heights and Israel's compliance with UN resolutions. This would mean Syria clearing up border issues, halting arms flows to Hizbullah and Palestinians. This is a deal that Bashar al-Assad has welcomed. He has said that both Syria's relationship with Hizbullah and Iran would be on the table if the Golan were to be returned. Young wants Lebanon at the table to police such a deal — all very reasonable.
Of course there is a black lining to every silver cloud. Young doesn't believe that Israel and Syria will actually reach a deal. That is why he insists that Lebanon get its part of any bargain first.
He claims that a main reason that Syria may be allowed into the talks is because Israel wants a "peace process" with Syria, although, not a peace, i.e. it doesn't want to give back the Golan. He writes:
"Israel might have an incentive in resurrecting its Syrian track in order to play it off against the Palestinian track, as it did throughout the 1990s. The fact that Syria might be interested far more in a negotiating process than in a peace settlement would only interest the Israelis more."
Needless to say, Michael believes that Syria doesn't really want the Golan back and only wants the process of talking with the West and being brought out of isolation. This is a common misapprehension and often repeated.
But, of course, the opposite is true. Syria wants the peace more than the process. That is why Hafiz al-Assad broke off talks with Israel in 2000 when he finally realized that Israel and the US only wanted the process and would refuse to hand over the Golan. Both Clinton and Barak were left blaming Hafiz for abandoning a process he understood was leading no where. "Where is your counter offer?" Barak asked Hafiz. He wanted to go on talking without giving.
At Geneva, Hafiz became convinced that Israel would never return the Golan, so he cut off the process. This is not something he would have done had he really been interested in the process more than the peace. He didn't need the process, Barak did. Clinton confirms this reading of events in his memoirs. He describes Barak's scuttling of the negotiations politely – "Barak got cold feet." In other words, Barak did not want to go through with the peace and did not believe that the Israelis could digest losing the Golan, particularly as Barak hoped to get a Palestinian deal, which would have entail 20% of the Israeli settlers being withdrawn from the occupied territories. Barak was using the process to keep Syria cooperative and pliant while he pursued the Palestinian track. In the end, Hafiz had been suckered by both Clinton, who didn't have the political will to pressure Barak to take the final steps, and by Barak, who jilted him at the alter. As Clinton has said, "A deal could be struck in 30 minutes." Even Sharon admitted that "everyone knows what a deal would mean" — the return of the whole Golan.
Michael believes that Syria wants Lebanon more than the Golan and will not give up its interests in Lebanon to get the Golan. To prove this, he refers to the fact that Syria did not offer to give up Lebanon during the 1990s, which is true. But this argument has no merit.
No one pushed Syria to give up Lebanon in the 1990s. Both Israel and the US believed that Syria was playing an important role in stabilizing Lebanon and restraining Hizbullah from attacking Israel or expanding its power in Lebanon. They were content to leave Syria in Lebanon. Hafiz understood this. The Syrian-US deal that led to the deployment of Syrian troops in the first Gulf war alongside America's laid the groundwork for this understanding. In 1990 Syria offered to help the US consolidate its control over the Gulf region. In exchange the US acquiesced in offering unchallenged Syrian control over Lebanon. This is the cynical view, but one could argue that it was good for Lebanon at the time. Syria brought the Lebanese civil war to a definitive end by subduing General Aoun. Of course it didn't disarm Hizbullah or the Palestinian militias.
Today, Syria does not own Lebanon. It has influence because it arms Hizbullah, but it does not occupy Lebanon, as it did in the 1990s. Syrian calculus will be very different going into peace talks. And so will international calculus. Today, the US and Israel want to keep Syria out of Lebanon; whereas, in the 1990s, they did not.
"…Hariri’s backbone when the Future Movement leader meets Bush on Thursday. The US government is publicly limiting its involvement to calls for a fair and on-time election, free from foreign meddling. US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman has repeatedly said that the US is not in the business of naming preferred presidential candidates.
Nonetheless, the Bush administration privately supports Jumblatt’s stand, concerned that the election of a consensus president would strengthen Hezbollah, and by extension Syria and Iran, at the expense of Washington’s influence over the current government.
“The Americans are convinced,” Jumblatt said. “But maybe the Europeans and the Saudis need convincing that the president should be elected by the half-plus-one.”
Memo From Damascus Syria, Seeking Investors, Turns Cautiously to Iran
New York Times by HUGH NAYLOR
From car manufacturing plants and a proposed $2 billion industrial zone for Iranian businesses, to plans to overhaul urban transportation systems, Iranian companies are charging into Syria, looking to cash in on a recent privatization push by Damascus.
Weighed down by a behemoth public sector, an influx of nearly two million Iraqi refugees and falling oil production, Syria’s leaders are trying to liberalize their economy in hopes of avoiding a financial meltdown.
In another time, the privatization effort might have presented an opportunity for the United States and Europe to use their enormous commercial muscle to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, Washington’s foremost antagonists in the region.
But the United States imposed sanctions in 2004 as punishment for Syrian support of militant Palestinian and Lebanese organizations. These banned American exports to Syria and gave President Bush the added option of outlawing American investment in the country, effectively scaring off American and other Western companies.
At the same time, Iran, the subject of two recent rounds of United Nations sanctions for its suspected nuclear weapons ambitions and a long boycott by the United States, has few opportunities to invest abroad. The end result, Western diplomats and analysts say, is that Washington has effectively pushed Damascus and Tehran into deepening their alliance of nearly three decades.
“It’s logical why we have been working much closer with the Iranians,” said Mustafa Alkafri, head of the Syrian Investment Agency, a government body. “We’re both under the American blockade.”
The Syrian government estimates that Iranian investment in 2006 alone surged to more than $400 million, making Tehran the third-largest foreign investor here, behind Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Though exact figures are unavailable, by some estimates Iran has invested a total of $3 billion in Syria, most of that in the last few years.
In September, officials from both countries announced plans to expand Iranian projects in Syria to $10 billion over the next five years, which would cast Tehran as the economic powerhouse here. … (Read entire article, interesting)