douglas bloomfield 63.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Syrian President Bashar Assad had two high profile visitors last week bringing
startling different messages: This is a good time to make peace with Israel, and
don’t you dare.
First came US peace envoy George Mitchell to say
Washington wants to see a comprehensive peace and promising the
Israeli-Palestinian talks would not conflict with restarting the Israeli-Syrian
That prompted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to quickly jet
to Damascus to make sure Assad had no plans to desert the Terror, Inc. camp. He
declared Iranian-Syrian relations were “solid and strategic with a unified view
on all issues.”
He also made it clear that Iran not only opposes any
peace with Israel but would “disrupt” efforts to “change the political geography
of the region.” Assad likes to declare his desire for peace, but that message
can be lost amid his more frequent threats of war.
Some on the Israeli
Left criticize Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for failing to engage Assad,
but the Syrian dictator has done nothing to back up his rhetoric.
should he? He has the best of both worlds right now – wooed by the West to join
its camp and by Iran to remain in its camp with more like-minded players like
Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida. Two of his old enemies have become
friends, thanks to the American removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the
election of an Islamist government in Turkey, which is shifting its focus from
West to East.
WASHINGTON’S GREATER interest is not in restarting the
Syrian track but in protecting the Palestinian talks from outside interference.
When those began last month President Barack Obama sent a message to Assad
warning him and his pals not to sabotage the Netanyahu-Abbas
Obama’s outreach to Assad has been fruitless. The US is
returning its ambassador to Damascus and has lifted some trade and travel
restrictions, but it has gotten nothing in return. Arms continue to flow to
Hizbullah; Assad is reoccupying Lebanon with no resistance from Washington or
Paris, continues to give sanctuary to terrorist groups, refuses international
inspection of his nuclear program and staunchly stands by his Iranian
Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres
have all in recent days reiterated Israel’s readiness for peace with Syria,
although there are indications that may just be for show. The French and the
Turks are competing to see who will be Syria’s go-between, but peace with Israel
is the last thing on Assad’s agenda.
That’s the assessment of Oded Zarai,
an expert on Arab affairs. “Syria will play the game of peace but it won’t reach
peace. Assad can’t afford the price Israel and the West wants, namely to give up
his relationship with Iran and those other evil players,” he said.
most important thing for Assad is survival of the regime. His standing in the
area is very high because of his relations with Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, al-Qaida
and now Turkey. Without them, Syria is zero. Because of them, Israel and the
West are paying attention to him.
“They treat him like he’s important and
tell him they want him to be the new [Anwar] Sadat, a bold peacemaker, but to
him that means being killed by the extreme forces inside his own country. The
moment Assad will sign peace with Israel, the Assad family will disappear and he
will be assassinated,” Zarai said.
There is no great motivation on either
side to make peace. Assad would like to regain the territory his father lost in
two wars, but he is unwilling to pay Israel’s price and unable to take it by
“Getting out of the Golan is worthless because we get nothing in
return,” said analyst Dan Schueftan.
“The only thing Israel wants is to
cut Syria off from Iran. Assad is getting best deal he ever had with Iran and
Turkey and chances he will abandon that for Israel are
Assad may be as ready to make peace with Israel as he is to
be bar mitzva, but that doesn’t mean the US should stop pursing dialogue with
his regime in an effort to ease regional tensions and to do everything possible
to prevent Damascus from moving further into Teheran’s orbit.
support and encourage Islamist groups outside its borders, but inside it is
growing uneasy with their influence in a traditionally secular
In 1982 Assad’s father massacred as many as 40,000 followers of
the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama when he thought the organization was getting too
The younger Assad likes to talk tough, but he cannot want his
more radical – and religious – friends in Iran and Hizbullah to further inflame
the volatile situation in Lebanon and draw him into a war with
Assad’s greatest goal is not, as his father once said, getting
back the Golan Heights and wading in the Kinneret. It is the survival of his
regime in a fastchanging region. And for now that means not turning his back on
his Iranian email@example.com