Landis in the News 2009

29 October 2009

Britain says Syria deal worth waiting for
By Sakhr Al-Makhadhi, Asia Times

LONDON – Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband insists that efforts to strengthen Europe’s ties with Syria are not on hold, as Damascus calls for a delay in signing a long-awaited association agreement.

The agreement will make Syria a member of the European Union’s Euro-Med partnership, which includes all 27 states of the European Union, along with 16 partners across the Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. It aims to raise the political level of the strategic relationship between the EU and its southern neighbors. According to the EU, it “offers more balanced governance, increased visibility to its citizens and a commitment to tangible, regional and trans-national projects”.

23 November 2009
Israel keeps mum on Lebanese firing at drone
By David Harris, China View

JERUSALEM, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) — Israel is refusing to comment on claims from Beirut that the Lebanese military fired at an unmanned Israeli aircraft on Saturday, forcing the drone to leave the Lebanese air space.

An Israeli official who spoke to Xinhua on condition of anonymity declined to discuss the Lebanese action, but did try to put Beirut’s claims in a broader context.

29 October 2009
Britain says Syria deal worth waiting for
By Sakhr Al-Makhadhi, Asia Times

LONDON – Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband insists that efforts to strengthen Europe’s ties with Syria are not on hold, as Damascus calls for a delay in signing a long-awaited association agreement.

The agreement will make Syria a member of the European Union’s Euro-Med partnership, which includes all 27 states of the European Union, along with 16 partners across the Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. It aims to raise the political level of the strategic relationship between the EU and its southern neighbors. According to the EU, it “offers more balanced governance, increased visibility to its citizens and a commitment to tangible, regional and trans-national projects”.

1 October 2009
Syria hardly to become tool for U.S. to pressure on Iran
By U. Sadykhova, Trend

For the first time over the past five years, Washington hosted the meeting between the Syrian officials and the White House, which is not connected with the pressure on Iran, as the U.S. first and foremost consider Syria as a key to stabilize the situation in the Middle East, experts believe.

“The U.S. needs Syria to form a government in Lebanon, which is important for them [Washington] and achieve reconciliation between HAMAS and FATAH and, of course, to stabilize the situation in Iraq,” Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Joshua Landis, told Trend over the telephone.

18 September 2009
Severe drought affects 1.3 million in Syria
By Dania Akkad, The Christian Science Monitor

Deraa, Syria
The acute drought that has driven an estimated 300,000 Syrian farmers, herders, and their families to abandon home for makeshift urban camps may not be the worst in the region’s history; the Fertile Crescent has often experienced cycles of drought.

But now climate change, an exploitation of water resources, and higher food prices brought about by the global financial crisis have all severely sharpened the impact of this dry spell, now in its fourth year. The numbers of Syrians affected – an estimated 1.3 million, 803,000 of whom have entirely lost their livelihoods – point to a serious humanitarian crisis.

13 September 2009
Turkey’s role in Syrian detente with West crucial, experts say

Turkey’s role in the recent thawing of relations between Syria and the West is viewed as critical and has been applauded by experts and political analysts in the region.

Following a US administration decision made three months ago to appoint an ambassador to the Syrian capital after a hiatus of four years, European Union Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the EU had been close to agreeing on an offer to Syria for closer ties on Sept. 4.

24 July 2009
Change for Syria?
By Katy Clark and Joshua Landis, The World

KATY CLARK: I’m Katy Clark and this is The World. One of the buzzwords from President Obama’s campaign was “change”. And there’s some hope that change could be on the horizon in the Middle East. The President’s special Mid-East envoy, George Mitchell, is on his way to Syria. It will be his second visit in as many months. For years, Syria has been an implacable enemy of Israel, an ally of Iran, and a sponsor of militant groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon. The question is whether Mitchell is able to coax a change out of Damascus. Joshua Landis is a leading blogger on Syria, and is associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Joshua Landis, I’d like your thoughts on why Mitchell is going back to Damascus?

JOSHUA LANDIS: Well, Obama’s strategic plan for the Middle East and his attempts to get the Middle East peace process moving are in danger of stalling. It’s a little bit like his health plan, in a sense. And so I think this is an attempt to get the ball rolling.

26 July 2009
Analysis: How far is Syria ready to go to appease the US?
By Brenda Gazzar, Jerusalem Post

….”This all indicates to me that there are still a lot of bones of contention between Syria and the US,” and even within the US administration on how to best deal with Syria, said Prof. Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “If you give Syria the Golan and Israel were to get peace with Syria, then Syria is free in a sense to carry out this 180 [degree turnabout],” Landis said. “It can dump Iran and do some damage to its allies because it’s getting something from America and Israel. But without that, why would Syria do a 180? What would it get from America?”

21 July 2009
Iran Turmoil May Cost Hezbollah, Hamas Amid Retreat (Update1)
By Ben Holland and Massoud A. Derhally, Bloomberg

July 21 (Bloomberg) — The power struggle in Iran sparked by the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is weakening the country’s ability to back Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Iraqi militants.

The main coordinator of support to these groups has been Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, whose Basij militia played a role in suppressing demonstrations against last month’s election results.

9 July 2009
Democracy Building & Consensus in Lebanon
By Joshua Landis and Mona Yacoubian, Radio NPR

In recent elections, Lebanese voters sent a pro-Western majority to parliament, denying a challenge from the militant Hezbollah. We look at the challenges ahead for the newly-named Prime Minister Saad Hariri — son of slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — and look at the foreign powers like Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. are likely to play.

2 July 2009
Reports emerge of Syrian-Saudi summit
By Nicholas Kimbrell , The Daily Star

Days after officials in Washington announced that a US ambassador would soon be sent to Syria, reports have emerged of an upcoming Syrian-Saudi Arabian summit to be held in Damascus that could include Lebanon. Conventional wisdom holds that any improvement in Syrian-Saudi ties generally contributes to increased stability in Lebanon.

24 June 2009
U.S. to Name Ambassador to Damascus after Four Years
By Katie Mattern and Ali Gharib, IPS

WASHINGTON, Jun 24, 2009 (IPS) – After informing the Syrian embassy in Washington on Tuesday night, the U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday that President Barack Obama will be sending an ambassador to Damascus for the first time since 2005.

The move follows the renewal of sanctions on Syria in May, which many thought were an obstacle to new ties to Damascus as part of the bold regional engagement Obama had promised during the presidential campaigns.

22 July 2009
Syria Seeks to Assert Importance in Middle East
By Joshua Landis Scott Simon, NPR

SCOTT SIMON, host: There’s little doubt that neighboring Syria has both a stake in the confrontation and influence over the Hezbollah. What isn’t yet known is whether, and on what condition, Syria might use its influence. Joshua Landis is a Professor of History in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syria. He joins us from Vermont. Professor, thanks very much for being with us.

Professor JOSHUA LANDIS (University of Oklahoma): It’s a pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And how do you quantify something like this? How much influence, what kind does Syria have over Hezbollah?

Prof. LANDIS: Syria has very good and close relations with Hezbollah. It’s not unlike the relationship between the United States and Israel. So Hezbollah’s never going to get out too far ahead of Syria and Iran. It would be very vulnerable and would have no diplomatic, political or real military backup if it did. So Assad can play a key role in moderating Hezbollah and opening up avenues of negotiation, and that’s been the traditional avenue that the United States has used. When U.S. hostages were taken after the ’82 Israeli invasion, it was through Damascus that they were released.

24 June 2009
Syria And Iraq Revive Business Ties
By Deborah Amos, NPR

Syria’s border with Iraq has long been a line of tension. The U.S. and the Iraqi government have accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq. But these days, the border is a potential business asset, as Syria looks to Iraq to help improve its economy.

This month, a new freight rail line opened between Syria’s port cities of Tartous and Latakia on the Mediterranean, and Iraq’s port city of Basra on the Persian Gulf. The first freight cars, loaded with automobiles from Europe, ended up in the Baghdad market. Syria offers a faster and cheaper route than the traditional transit through the Suez Canal.

15 June 2009
U.S. Continues Charm Offensive With Syria
By Chip Cummins, The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, touched down Friday in Damascus, in the latest outreach by the U.S. to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Just a little more than a year ago, Syria was viewed as a pariah state, even among some of its Arab neighbors. But in recent months, Mr. Assad has emerged as a potentially important partner for Washington in the Middle East’s suddenly shifting political and diplomatic landscape.

11 June 2009
Lebanon’s Election: An International Affair
By Khody Akhavi, IPS

WASHINGTON, Jun 11, 2009 (IPS) – It was touted as an historic election, a vote to determine the future direction of Lebanon. But even with the winners declared, analysts say the Jun. 7 ballot was far from decisive, and did little to alter the fundamental balance of power in the country.

In the U.S., Lebanon’s poll has been characterised as another contest in the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East, and a victory for a new Washington administration over the hardliners in Tehran.

9 June 2009
Lebanon’s Winning Bloc Must Try to Placate Hezbollah (Update2)
By Massoud A Derhally, Bloomberg

June 9 (Bloomberg) — Lebanon’s pro-Western coalition, after beating Hezbollah and its allies at the ballot box, needs to placate the armed Shiite group to prevent sectarian divisions from flaring into fresh violence, analysts say.

The last time civil strife erupted in Lebanon a year ago, Qatari mediators resolved the conflict under a plan that brought the Hezbollah bloc into government with a veto over policy. Since then, all-party talks on disarming Hezbollah have yielded little progress.

7 June 2009
Turnout High in Lebanon as Hezbollah Bloc May Gain (Update1)
By Massoud A. Derhally, Bloomberg

June 7 (Bloomberg) — Lebanese turned out in large numbers today in parliamentary elections that may oust the pro-Western coalition of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, with the Iranian- backed Hezbollah and its allies tipped to gain seats.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. and some 52.3 percent of the 3.2 million Lebanese eligible to vote had done so, said Interior Minister Ziad Baroud. That compared with an overall 45.8 percent turnout in 2005, he said.

2 June 2009
Syria’s Kilo pledges to continue struggle
Middle East Online

DAMASCUS – A few hours after his release from prison, Michel Kilo, a prominent Syrian intellectual and journalist, sat among his family and friends telling stories about his daily life while he was incarcerated.

Appearing in high spirits, Kilo – who spent three years in jail for “threatening national sentiment” and “inciting sectarian strife” – spoke jokingly about one cellmate who cooked better than all the women he had known.

12 May 2009
By Ali Gharib, Mondiaal Nieuws

WASHINGTON, 12 mei 2009 (IPS) – De Amerikaanse president Obama wil een nieuwe relatie met het Midden-Oosten maar verlengt nu wel de sancties tegen Syrië die zijn voorganger heeft ingesteld. De VS slagen er maar niet in Syrië los te weken van Iran.

Barack Obama verlengde donderdag (8 mei) de sancties tegen Syrië met een jaar. Ze waren nog door George W. Bush ingesteld en hadden normaal gisteren (maandag) moeten eindigen.

11 May 2009
U.S. Thaw with Syria Hits Stumbling Blocks
By Ali Gharib, IPS

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2009 (IPS) – U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement on May 8 calling for the renewal of sanctions on Syria, which were set to expire on Monday. The declaration came at the end of a busy week in which both high-level U.S. officials and the Iranian president visited the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Though Syria has recently sought engagement with the U.S. and Israel, the executive order extending sanctions is only the latest in a series of significant stumbling blocks to peeling off one of Iran’s closest regional allies.

11 May 2009
Mending ties will take time
By Sami Moubayed,

The big news is that US President Barack Obama has renewed sanctions on Syria, imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2004. The order, numbered 13,338, was due to expire on May 10.

The renewal came after Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro visited Syria, followed immediately by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

8 May 2009
US renews sanctions against Syria
By Ann Fifield, Financial Times

But Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at Oklahoma university, said that renewing the sanctions sent the wrong signal. “It was promulgated by the Bush White …

May 2009
Lebanon Votes
By Julien Lennert, Syria Today

Lebanon’s general election, scheduled for June 7, is likely to be a key moment in determining whether the country can escape the turmoil of recent years and embark on a more stable and fruitful future.

At the heart of this future lies the relationship between Syria and Lebanon, which has been the source of both tension and instability in recent years. As the decisive election approaches, Syria says it will not intervene in Lebanese domestic affairs and that it simply wants a stable and secure neighbour on its western border.

4 May 2009
The Emergence of Syria and Other Current Developments in the Arab World
By Joshua Landis, willam580, Illinois Public Media

(Follow link to listen to radio interview.)

9 April 2009
Edging in from the cold?
By Michael Petrou,

George W. Bush never included Syria on his list of countries making up what he described as an “Axis of Evil,” but it was clear that he considered the regime of Bashar al-Assad a security threat that needed to be isolated and punished. In April 2002, shortly after his Axis speech and at a time when the United States still seemed willing and able to take down hostile regimes, Bush said the time had come “for Syria to decide which side of the war against terror it is on.” He later accused Syria of sponsoring Palestinian terror groups, assassinating politicians in Lebanon, and doing little to prevent jihadists from crossing its border with Iraq to attack American troops there. Bush pulled the U.S. ambassador out of Syria in 2005. He imposed wide-ranging sanctions on the country. And in October 2008, as one of his last major acts while still in office, he approved a helicopter raid on a Syrian village near the Iraq border where a senior al-Qaeda operative was purportedly sheltering.

9 March 2009
The focus is on Syria, but the key is really Iran
By Phil Sands, The National

…Syria’s ability to avoid making a stark choice will depend on US willingness to compromise with Iran, said Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist and director at the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“Traditionally, the US has sought to weaken both Iran and Syria, to lock them out of regional security discussions and deny their importance,” he said.

“If the US learns to offer them security – that is, stop threatening to overturn their regimes – and to compromise with them, then there is hope for an accommodation of interests in the region that could dramatically reduce tensions and radicalism. Of course Iran and Syria would have to meet the US half way and change some of their behaviour as well.”

7 March 2009
US Envoys Hold ‘Constructive’ Talks in Syria

Two senior U.S. diplomats have met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem in Damascus, Saturday, in the first high-level visit by ranking U.S. diplomats since January 2005.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council member Dan Shapiro met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Damascus, Saturday, amid attempts to broker a rapprochement between the United States and Syria after years of tumultuous relations between the two countries.

April 2009
Still Waiting For Change
By John Dagge, Syria Today

US officials have racked up an impressive amount of frequent flyer points dropping in on Damascus of late. Since moving into the White House in late January, US President Barack Obama has given the green light to a high-profile engagement of Syria. Damascus is now hailed as a ‘key’ to solving the Middle East’s problems, former adversaries talk of ‘common ground’ without blushing, and opinion writers the world over wax lyrical about a change in the region’s tectonic plates.

Most seasoned Syria observers, however, remain highly cautious. Despite the apparent volte-face in US policy towards Damascus, they question what has fundamentally changed in the country’s long, complicated relationship with America.

6 March 2009
Friends in Need
By Joshua Landis, The Nationalist

Syria’s economy is sinking. America needs friends in the Middle East. Josh Landis considers the possibility of renewed co-operation.

3 April 2009
Chủ động đối thoại với Syrie nhằm thúc đẩy hòa đàm tại Cận Đông
Tieng Viet

Hôm qua, đang công du Israel, ngoại trưởng Hillary Clinton đã thông báo là Hoa Kỳ sẽ cử hai đặc sứ tới Syrie tiến hành đối thoại trực tiếp với chính quyền Damas về tương lai quan hệ song phương. Hai đặc sứ của Mỹ là Jeffrey Feltman, quyền trợ lý ngoại trưởng về các vấn đề Cận Đông và Daniel Shapiro, cố vấn an ninh quốc gia của Nhà Trắng, cũng phụ trách hồ sơ này, có thể tới thủ đô Syrie vào cuối tuần.

Mục tiêu cuộc tấn công ngoại giao của Hoa Kỳ là tìm cách cải thiện quan hệ với Syrie, qua đó, thúc đẩy tiến trình hòa đàm tại Cận Đông và cô lập thêm Iran. Ngay sau khi tổng thống Obama nhậm chức, một phái đoàn các nghị sĩ Hoa Kỳ do ông John Kerry, chủ tịch Ủy ban Đối ngoại Thượng viện đã công du Cận Đông và tới Syrie.

3 March 2009
America’s ‘New Path’ in the Middle East
By Warren Olney, KCRW

The Obama Administration says it’s cutting a “new path” toward Middle East peace. With Israel and the Palestinians both divided among themselves, we hear about outreach to Syria, Turkey and even Iran. Also, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown becomes the first European leader to visit President Obama, and some Protestants are embracing “creationism” and “intelligent design,” but not the Vatican. We hear about next month’s conference on Charles Darwin and Evolution.

3 March 2009
Washington Ends Its Diplomatic Embargo
By Jim Lobe, IPS

WASHINGTON, Mar 3, 2009 (IPS) – Ending a four-year diplomatic embargo on Damascus, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday confirmed that it is sending two high-level officials to Syria this week for “preliminary conversations”, presumably on improving relations.

The trip, which will be undertaken by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, a senior staffer on the National Security Council who also served as one of Obama’s top Mideast advisers during his presidential campaign, was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem.

1 March 2009
US Overtures Could Force Syria Into Tough Choices
By Reuters,

But Mustafa said the meeting could herald a new chapter in ties and that Syria was open to discuss all issues.

U.S. President Barack Obama has signalled he wants a dialogue with Syria that could further rehabilitate Damascus internationally but also force it to choose whether to loosen ties with Iran and anti-Israeli groups.

23 February 2009
John Kerry se entrevista con Bachar Al Asad siguiendo el nuevo ‘estilo Obama’
By Javier Espinosa, El Mundo

El ex candidato presidencial y actual jefe del comité de relaciones exteriores del Senado de EEUU, John Kerry, se ha entrevistado con el jefe de estado sirio, Bachar al Asad, en un significativo encuentro que confirma el cambio de política que ha asumido Washington con respecto a Oriente Próximo y en especial a regímenes como el de Damasco.

Durante toda la égida de George Bush, Siria fue junto a Irán el principal receptor en la región de las críticas de Washington, que retiró a su embajador del país árabe en febrero del 2005 —tras el asesinato de Rafic Hariri en el Líbano— y promovió la aplicación de sanciones contra el régimen baazista.

20 February 2009
Relations with Syria meet U.S. interests in Middle East
By U. Sadigova, Trend

U.S.-Syria ties can be improved as a political influence of Damask to the Middle East may assist Washington in reaching stabilization in the region and ensure Israel with security.

“Washington watches that Syria’s integration to the policy of the Middle East is more lucrative than the intimacy of Damask with Iran,” head of the Syrian researches center of the Saint – Andrews University Raymond Hinnebusch told Trend in a telephone conversation.

17 February 2009
Signs of a Thaw, But Differences Run Deep
By Ali Gharib, IPS

WASHINGTON, Feb 17, 2009 (IPS) – This week, two high-level U.S. Congressional delegations are setting out for Syria to meet with President Bashar Al Assad. The trips are seen as a precursor for engagement with Syria, but the extent of possible diplomatic deal-making is still in question.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry is spending this week touring the Middle East and is scheduled to stop in Damascus for talks with Assad, his third such visit. House Foreign Relations Chairman Rep. Howard Berman is expected to travel there later this month.

17 February 2009
Signs Show Possible Thaw in US-Syrian Relations

The new Obama administration appears to be taking tentative steps towards resuming dialogue with Syria, while the key step of sending a new U.S. ambassador to Damascus for the first time in three years remains up in the air. A visit by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and a high-level American delegation to Syria, this week, is renewing speculation of a rapprochement.

The politics of rapprochement with Syria, after several years of frosty relations between Washington and Damascus, appear to be as complicated and tentative as Syria’s famous national dance, the dabkeh. The footwork is intricate, there are steps forward and steps back and everyone is moving in different directions.

February 2009
Syria and the West: Enough of the Small Talk
By Sarah Birke, Syria Today

In case you missed it, Syria is back in from the cold. After being sidelined by the West for several years, the second half of 2008 saw a flurry of European officials visit Damascus, the headlining acts including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Foreign Minister David Miliband. On December 14, the long-delayed Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union was initialled. Its ratification will lock Syrian-EU relations into a robust regional framework and greatly increase the amount of EU funding to Syria.

Moves by Damascus to help pass the Doha Agreement on Lebanon, stimulate the peace process with Israel, establish an embassy in Beirut and broker a now-defunct ceasefire in Gaza all won Damascus much praise from European capitals. A change in the tenant at Sandsthe White House has also generated much hope for a more constructive Syrian-US relationship. It is a remarkable adjustment in a remarkably short period of time. Even more so given that many of the points raised by Europe and America for downgrading ties with Damascus in the first place – the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and Damascus’ ties with the likes of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – still stand.

6 February 2009
A setback for Turkey as Mideast broker
By Yigal Schleifer, The Christian Science Monitor

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent outburst at the World Economic Forum, where he berated Israeli President Shimon Peres for Israel’s attack on Gaza, has won him unprecedented popularity in the Arab world.

Mr. Erdogan’s tirade may help Turkey reconnect with the region after decades of being estranged. But it could also damage Turkey’s aspirations to be a mediating power in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and its neighbors.

4 February 2009
Turkey: PM Erdogan’s Criticism of Israel Could Damage Ankara’s Aspirations as Mid-East Peace Broker
By Yigal Schleifer,

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel’s recent attack on Gaza — culminating with his walking off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos after angrily berating Israeli President Shimon Peres — has made him a popular man in the Arab world. But analysts warn that, at least in the short term, Erdogan’s actions could damage Turkey’s aspirations to be a mediating power in the Middle East, particularly between Israel and its neighbors.

“The cost [of Erdogan’s actions] was possibly the loss of something that was starting, but that hadn’t matured, and that was Turkey’s emerging role in the Middle East,” says Semih Idiz, a columnist who writes on foreign affairs for the Milliyet newspaper. “Erdogan made his position very apparent, and it’s hard to see how he will be an honest broker in this stage.”

15 January 2009
Does the road to peace lie through Syria?
By Deen Karim, CBCnews

The intensity of the conflict in Gaza, now in its third week, has at least some world leaders scrambling for an agreement to stop the fighting.

Chief among them has been French President Nicolas Sarkozy who has been working with his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, on a formal ceasefire and is also tapping a much-shunned leader to get involved in the mediation, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

9 January 2009
Striking close to home
By Julianna Parker, The Norman Transcript

For most Americans, the fighting in Gaza over the past two weeks has been something they’ve watched from afar, with glimpes of another place flashed on the evening news.

But for University of Oklahoma student Yonathan Reches, the conflict has hit much closer to home.

3 January 2009
Does Syira Matter?
Moment Magazine

Veteran Syria-watchers — Tom Dine, Martin Indyk, Joshua Landis, Moshe Ma’oz, Michael Oren, David Schenker and Andrew Tabler—weigh in on …

Joshua Landis, administrator of Syria Comment blog, professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Does Syria matter?

Syria has a crucial role to play in four major areas: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, because it houses Hamas and is the main Arab “spokescountry” for resistance to Israel; terrorism, because Syria uses Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups to fight for the Golan Heights; Iraq, because jihadists still go from North Africa and Saudi Arabia through Syria into Iraq; and Lebanon, where its influence has become very important to America over the past six years.

Is peace possible?

Yes. Hafez Assad wanted to finish this deal in the 1990s when President Clinton led peace negotiations. He went to Geneva to meet with Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, but, as Clinton writes in his memoir, Barak got cold feet. It was a few months before elections, and Barak didn’t think he could get Israel to give back the Golan Heights. As happened with Egypt in 1979, Israel didn’t want to give up the Sinai, but Jimmy Carter closed the deal by providing Israel with gobs of money. If there could be peace with Israel—and everybody in Damascus is talking about it, as is Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha—that would help lift the strict sanctions against Syria. America now has a chance to bring Syria away from anti-Western alliances that it has needed to fight the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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