Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, October 7th, 2008
Josh, though I agree with your following comment in general:
“Syria has scrupulously avoided direct war with Israel, because it would undermine its hold on power. That is why it must work through militias and non-state actors, which don’t have a return address”
I beg to differ on the return address. The militias and non-state actors may not have a return address inside Syria proper, but ask any residents in the occupied territories and southern Lebanon and we will tell you otherwise. The return address is more often than not on top of our heads.
Johnny, habibi — Allah yukhalli rasak. Kish barra wa ba3iid.
You are absolutely right. Syria’s military weakness has obliged it to fight a non-traditional war. The result is that many Lebanese are held hostage to a larger struggle that they want no part of.
All the more reason for not misinterpreting the war’s causes. If one believes that it is due to “dark Alawite insecurities,” as Baer and others argue, the proper strategy to bring peace to the region is regime change in Syria.
I think such a policy is stupid and misguided, even if it is all too commonly made. It will only lead to increased Lebanese chaos and suffering, not to mention plenty of Syrian chaos and suffering. This is a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face policy.
It confuses domestic power politics with Syria’s foreign policy. I quote as support a kind note sent to me by a three-time ambassador to the Middle East, who is also a long time Syria hand:
Thank you for correcting the analysis of Robert Baer about the so-called “Alawites’ dark insecurity — and the fact that they will risk war with Israel if they believe their survival requires it.” It is one of those many simplistic examples of incorrectly trying to link internal power politics with foreign policies.
The real solution is to help end the Arab-Israeli conflict and restore the Golan to its legal owners. Once this is accomplished, Syria will not have incentive to destabilize Lebanon. Certainly, Syria’s Lebanon strategy will no longer need to depend on supporting “resistance” and an armed Hizbullah. For Syria to give up support for Hizb before getting the Golan back, is to give up its claim to the Golan.
Syria will continue to work for a “friendly” Lebanon, but that will not be so objectionable – even to right wing Lebanese – so long as Syria is at peace with Israel and supports a Lebanon also at peace with Israel. Everyone will be the richer and everyone’s house will be the safer – everyone but the 20,000 Jewish settlers on the Golan – which is where the real problem lies.
All of this “dark Alawite” hocus-pocus is a diversion from the real problem of occupation and land disputes at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. No matter who rules Syria, they will need to fight for the Golan and they will need allies in their struggle. Gaining the return of the Golan is perhaps the only thing that all Syrians agree on.
I doubt that the Muslim Brothers or the NSF have a better plan than the present Syrian regime has. During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, they recommended that Assad attack Israel on the Golan in order to support Lebanon and defeat Israel. That would have been a losing strategy for Syria, but, of course, that was the point. They want Syria to be defeated by Israel in order to bring down the present regime that they abhor. This is the quintessential cut-of-your-nose-to-spite-your-face strategy. It was not smart of the these opposition members to advocate it.
Lebanon and Syria are linked by geography, economy, and culture. Only a happy and peaceful Syria will help to foster a happy and peaceful Lebanon. And the same goes for a happy and peaceful Israel. The international community should throw its efforts behind the task of helping the Israeli settlers back to Israel proper and returning the 300,000 Golani refugees in Syria back to their homes and land. This is a much easier task than regime change in Damascus. It is more likely to improve the futures of both Syrians and Israelis. It will also end Syria’s need to hurt Israel through proxies and will protect people like you from becoming Israel’s return address.
But let us turn away from power politics for a moment. Supporting international law is the right thing to do. America should not be seeking to crush Syrian efforts to regain the Golan, which is exactly what Washington’s policy has been for the last eight years. It should be supporting and promoting the peace process that Israel and Syria have begun.