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Zalman Shoval

Syria hallucinations

President Assad won't be disengaging from Iran or Hizbullah

In recent weeks Syria has engaged in a diplomatic and political offensive against Israel and the United States, and not without success, we must admit. It has been aided by quite a few rash and unwise remarks by certain Israeli politicians and journalists, as well as American politicians hostile to the Bush Administration's policy.


Damascus' objectives are varied yet clear: Shatter the circle of isolation it faces, undermine America's status in the whole region and particularly in Iraq, fragment the Western front against it and its ally Iran, drive a wedge between Israel and the US, thwart Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian initiatives to form an alliance against the Shiite threat, regain its status as Lebanon's ruler-in-practice – and if possible, regain the Golan Heights.


Readers may wonder, isn't regaining the Golan Syria's main objective? Not necessarily, as this issue is not vital to the regime's survival. The removal of Israeli control over the Golan would indeed make it easier for Syria to undertake offensive moves against Israel in the future, yet the fact is that almost all prime ministers were willing to negotiate with Syria over the Golan, including far-reaching compromises – only to be met with rejection and foot-dragging.


We should add that, as the Mossad chief made clear, Syria is not looking for peace with Israel, but rather, the preservation of a limited state of war that allows the Alawite minority in Damascus to justify its continued dictatorship.


The modus operandi, that is, Syria's manner of conduct, is no secret either: Uttering peace remarks aimed at Israelis and hinting to American senators, most of them democrats visiting Damascus against their government's instructions, that "There's something to talk about" – not only regarding the apparent chances of striking a peace deal with Israel, but also regarding the possibility of cooperation on Iraq.


One of the arguments used by Israelis and others who believe that we should accept the public Syrian calls is that it could allow us to disengage Damascus from Teheran. This argument is baseless, as the Shiite Iran serves as an "insurance policy" for the Alawite's regime in face of its internal and external enemies. (By doing this, Iran replaced the Soviet Union, which played this role in the past.)


American wishes cannot be ignored

Moreover: Can anyone imagine that Syria would accept the demand to end its support for Hizbullah when the organization is the main tool used to advance Syria's plans in Lebanon?


There's a significant degree of naiveté or pretension in the thinking that Iran and Syria's interests match those of Washington in Iraq, as if Teheran's objective is to assist in America's efforts to stabilize Iraq – a hope expressed by Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton.  


There's no reason to assume that the report's foremost concern was Israel's interests of all things. Indeed, the document's influence on formulating American policy in the coming two years, and possibly after that, would be relatively limited anyway, with many observers in Washington believing the report died a premature death – unless it would be Israel of all parties that suddenly decides to realize the vision outlined in the report.


And then we see some "wise guys" who loudly declare with a measure of national pride: "What, are we a banana republic? We won't talk with Assad just because America doesn't want it?"


These heroes-for-a-day apparently believe that Israel has such a wide variety of friends and other allies that back it at the UN and at all international arenas, support its fight on terrorism, offer important and generous military aid, and are willing to lead the battle against Iran's nuclear program – that we can just ignore the Americans…


It is also difficult not to be amazed by the dual message of those who praise Israel's willingness to comply with the American request to meet with Palestinian leader Abbas – even though no substantive benefit will come out of it – while in the same breath condemning the same America when it advises us not to fall for Syria's false messages.


The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Washington


פרסום ראשון: 12.27.06, 00:51
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