Sunday, August 06, 2006

Are Syria and Iran really an item?

The HA--IDF war is having at least one identifiable result: close scrutiny of the ties that bind Syria and Iran. My plan to scan a variety of topics this morning has bogged down at the start because the first two places I look put Syria in a spotlight.

John Burgess is back to blogging after a brief pause, and he has been busy.

Here is a background piece from Asharq Alawsat.

If the Bush administration was effectively preparing a plan to sabotage alliances, it will undoubtedly have to take into consideration its side effects, including the possibility that a renewed dialogue with Syria might lead it to increase its influence in Lebanon. In this respect, Scott Lasensky, a researcher at the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention in the US capital, told Asharq Al Awsat, “The challenge facing the US is how to find a way to resume direct contact with Syria, as well as working with the rest of Washington’s Arab allies, who will be more interested in exploiting their relationship with Syria, if they see that Washington is ready to take some risk. When we Americans decide to resume contacts with Syria, the challenge facing us will be to convince the Syrians to work to calm the situation, without this leading to a return of Syrian influence in Lebanon. We can’t solve the current problem of violence in Lebanon, by creating another problem, which is renewed Syrian influence in the country. How do we achieve this? I think it starts with dialogue, in addition to the US using its influence on Israel, perhaps by convincing it of the need for a temporary ceasefire and a halt to military operations. The US administration should also stress to Syria that its regime will pay the price for its continued support of Hezbollah and this will be represented in increasing US efforts to isolate Damascus.”

Because a scenario such as the above demands two players, Washington has to find a partner in Damascus, currently unlikely, given the US conditions. Syria, which proposed to mediate between Washington and Hezbollah, in order to help reduce the escalation of the conflict, has never suggested it intends to neutralize Hezbollah or restrain it. Its proposal, which came during the first few days of the Israeli attacks, through its foreign minister Walid al Muallem, included discussing all outstanding problems in the region, including the fate of the Golan Heights, in exchange for calming the current situation. Syria is extremely unlikely to sacrifice Hezbollah, as this is against its interests for the foreseeable future. It feels surrounded by a hostile environment: the US is occupying Iraq, Lebanon and its government reject Syrian influence, Israel continues to occupy the Golan Heights and Jordan and Turkey have strong relations with Washington. Damascus believes an armed Hezbollah is the only card in its hand, not only in Lebanon but also in front of Israel, if it one day to regain the Golan Heights on its terms and not those set by Israel.

Believe it or not, that is but a small sample of the many ramifications discussed in this article. There was a time in my academic career that I would take time to wade through it all and try to understand it all, but that was before I found out that knowing all the facts is not always important to the final outcome. That, unhappily, depends more on power than principle.

Moving along, Check out the story about internet rumors. Seems like the Arab world can be just as gullible as the West when it comes to swallowing crazy disinformation hook, line and sinker. Check out the counterfeit Starbucks logo at the link. Recall my point above regarding "facts" vs principles. This story is a small illustration of why that is so.

Another story from Jerusalem Post looks at Saudi criticism (Hello, fatwa!) of HA. Burgess allows that the main story is correct, but cautions against taking the whole piece uncritically. (Is the phrase "hook, line and sinker" appropriate here?)

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Saidi Debate published another excellent overview by Khalid Al-Dakhil.
Lebanon plays proxy as Arab states ponder Iran-Syria alliance

This article examines two sources of internal tension in the Arab world, one political, the other confessional. It is not easy to tease out these two topics from the tangle of rhetoric that usually obfuscates both, but when all the fluff is blown away, these are the two unmentionables under discussion.

Political tensions, simply put, are about national interests against pan-Arab interests. Americans grasp the idea of federalism readily because that is how the united states (lower caps) are put together. I think most of the world has no real understanding of the concept. This blindness is not just an Arab quality. (Come to think of it, most Americans are equally oblivious to the rest of the world when it comes to mutual accommodation. Our leaders rarely spell out clearly what they are doing internationally, preferring to hide the realities of international relations behind easier to swallow domestic issues like taxes, jobs and the ever-popular protectionist talk.)

Confessional tensions, also simply put, are about the Sunni-Shiite split. Here again, we in the West can relate to how Catholics and Protestants, both claiming to be Christian, can be literally at war with one another not just incidentally but for generations. How quickly we point to the motes in Arab eyes when we look at that part of their confusion. (I like the remark that Daniel Schorr made about the IRA's quitting their tactics because terrorists from the Middle East were giving terrorism a bad name.)

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