“The Syrian-American Rift,” By Akiva Eldar

The Syrian-American Rift
By Akiva Eldar

As the U.S. congressional elections approach, thousands of party activists are shuttling between synagogues and Evangelical churches, competing with their pro-Israel declarations to garner votes and money. But as of next Tuesday, the rules of the political game in Washington will change: In come the political advisers seeking to rescue Client Number One from the Iraqi vale of tears. James Baker, Bush Sr.'s secretary of state, is expected to present Bush Jr. with a plan detailing an escape from the quagmire.

Edward Djerejian, who heads the James Baker Institute for Public Policy and is involved in drafting the plan, has said in private conversations that the document will recommend Bush lift the boycott on Syria and advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Djerejian, who was American ambassador to both Syria and Israel, has maintained close relations with the regime in Damascus. He wrote in the last issue of Foreign Affairs: "Syria poses both a danger and an opportunity. The [Bashar] Assad regime could undermine security arrangements in southern Lebanon, hinder progress in Iraq and continue to support Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and radicals in Hamas. But it could also play a constructive role in the region – a possibility that has yet to be fully explored. The Bush administration's engagement with the Syrians from 2003 to 2005 left both sides frustrated. Washington felt that Damascus offered too little too late, and Damascus felt that Washington constantly increased its demands and refused to be satisfied.

"Since Syria facilitates Hezbollah's access to arms and money, any sustainable solution in southern Lebanon would require Syria to be on board. Given Syria's historically special relationship with Lebanon, Damascus would not countenance a separate deal between Beirut and Jerusalem, and so the Israeli-Lebanese and the Israeli-Syrian negotiating tracks will have to proceed in parallel."

Another person who does not support America's anti-Assad policy is Djerejian's boss, Baker. And according to the Sunday New York Times, these two retirees have quite a few partners in the White House and the State Department. Among those allegedly advocating direct negotiations between Israel and Syria are two senior advisers: J.D. Crouch, the hawkish deputy national security advisor, and David Welch, the assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs. Welch was an active partner in formulating UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war in Lebanon this summer.

Exactly 15 years ago today, President George H.W. Bush accepted Baker's recommendation and sat Yitzhak Shamir down with Hafez Assad's delegation to the Madrid conference, following the first Gulf war. Now it is up to Baker and Crouch to convince his son that appeasing Syria could save the remnants of his honor. They believe reopening the American-Syrian-Israeli political track might stop terrorists from passing from Syria into Iraq, where they operate against American troops, as well as arms from passing from Iran to Hezbollah via Syria. The supporters of reforming policy toward Syria say using the stick merely pushes Syria into the arms of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, to say nothing of extremist anti-American elements in Iraq.

The new voices in Washington have not gone unnoticed by Assad. In response, he has given conciliatory interviews to the international media and promised western emissaries that he would open a public diplomacy campaign. The Syrian leader is waiting for the U.S. president to clarify that so long as he, Bush, is in power, there is no significance to the declaration by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that, so long as he, Olmert, is in power, the Golan Heights will remain part of Israel. Only if Bush accepts his advisers' recommendation to open the diplomatic channel and risk – as his father did – a confrontation with the Israeli government and its friends in the Jewish establishment and the Christian Right – as happened in 1992 – will it be possible to know what Assad would do to get back the Golan Heights. Would he send Khaled Meshal to find a new refuge? Would his line be busy when Hassan Nasrallah calls to find out why the container carrying Katyushas from Tehran is stuck in Syrian customs?

Sami Moubayed has two new articles well worth reading: 

Iraq's bloody destiny compares the supercharged politics of Qasim's regime following the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in 1958 with Malaki's government today. It is interesting for the history.

Christian Damascus is a sympathetic treatment of the fears of Syria's Christians. Their anxiety runs high these days as they give succor to the thousands of Iraqi Christians who are fleeing persecution and lawlessness and as they watch their own government in competition with Islamists, whether allies such as Hizbullah or enemies such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Comments (3)

t_desco said:

US issues Lebanon ‘plot’ warning

The United States has said there is “mounting evidence” that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are planning to topple the Lebanese government.

The White House said Syria hoped to stop the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

Spokesman Tony Snow said any attempt to destabilise the Lebanese government would violate UN resolutions.

The BBC News website’s world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says the White House statement appears to result from the tense situation in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is demanding one third of cabinet seats, thereby giving it a veto over decisions.

Such a veto would enable it to block approval of the international tribunal to try suspects in Mr Hariri’s assassination, our correspondent says.

The Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has threatened street demonstrations in support of his demand.

The US is concerned that this instability could result in the fall of the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The statement also casts doubt on any willingness by the Bush administration to consider Syria and Iran as potential partners over the future of Iraq, an idea that the Baker commission on Iraq is expected to suggest, our correspondent adds.
BBC News

Haaretz: 20:16 Rifle-fired grenade explodes in major Lebanese police barracks in west Beirut (AP)

What a nice coincidence!

November 1st, 2006, 6:44 pm


G said:

Crouch sympathetic on Syria?! Yeah, ok. And I’m Napoleon Bonaparte.

November 1st, 2006, 6:55 pm


ausamaa said:

T- Disco

US Issues Lebanon “Plot Warning”.

Is that the same like issuing “Tornado Warnings” so those with glass houses or those who live in houses with shaky foundations should evacuate target areas immediately???

Or is it like a call to NEMA and the National Guards to be mobilized and be ready to assist?

What is your bet???

November 2nd, 2006, 10:57 am


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