Syria won't redraw border with Lebanon

Damascus waiting until Israel leaves Shaba Farms; move seen as attempt to frame Israel as violator.

Shaba Farms IDF 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
Shaba Farms IDF 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Syria says it will not redraw its borders with Lebanon until Israel withdraws from the Shaba Farms area, Syria's ambassador to the UN has made clear. The Syrian representative, Bashar Ja'afari, sent a series of letters to the UN stipulating that Syria considered the defining of a future Syrian-Lebanese border, especially regarding the Shaba Farms, unfeasible until Israel withdrew from the entire area, the Israeli-Arab news Web site Al Arab reported Sunday. Despite the seriousness of the letters, Israeli experts believe this is just another attempt by the Syrian regime to create unrest on the international scene whenever the opportunity presents itself. "In general, the Syrian regime does everything it can to prevent the reduction of tensions and greater stability between Israel and Lebanon. It's a matter of stirring the pot whenever they can," said Gerald Steinberg, head of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University. The Shaba Farms, or Mount Dov, were captured from Syria in the 1967 war, and the issue of the territory's return became a problem after Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 - which, according to the UN, ended the territorial dispute between Lebanon and Israel. Since the withdrawal, Syria and Hizbullah have used the site as justification for armed resistance against Israeli occupation, realizing the world would respond to a border conflict. "The Syrians use the issue of the Shaba Farms because they want the international community to think that Israel is a border violator, so they'll do everything to reenergize the issue," said Dan Diker, senior foreign policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Diker believes that viewing the conflict as a matter of borders is a misconception, and that it should be approached as a matter of Israel's right to exist. "The international community has always responded to border issues. That is why the international community has always gotten the conflict wrong. We are in a dispute to see if we can exist in any borders in the Middle East," said Diker. While Syria's official stance on Mount Dov has been that it belongs to Lebanon, it is believed that Syria's goal in attempting to reclaim the Golan Heights, including Mount Dov, is to enhance its own image among other Middle Eastern nations and to set an example regarding what can be obtained in negotiations with Israel. Ja'afari's letters to the UN and the raising of the Lebanon-Syria border issue come amid incipient attempts by the United States and moderate Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt to pull Syria away from the Iranian-Hizbullah fold. "It's very difficult to discern Syrian intentions, because their public statements tend to be contradictory. The Syrian regime has shown that it wants the benefits from dialogue with the US, but is not willing to change its position regarding Iran and Hizbullah," said Steinberg. According to Steinberg, Israel would have to see clear and unprecedented statements and actions by the US and the international community, including Europe, that a withdrawal from the Shaba Farms would be the end of any territorial demands related to Lebanon and Israel, for it to agree to any such move. Steinberg added that Israel would want a sovereign and stable Lebanon to take control of the site, rather than Syria, but this move might be a long way off. "There is an Israeli interest in reducing the level of tension with Lebanon and removing as many sources of conflict from the table as possible without sacrificing its vital interests. The Israeli government will carefully calculate the cost benefits on a number of different issues, but it's not in the Israeli interest to have the Shaba Farms become part of Syria," said Steinberg.