May 1, 2008

THE CASE AGAINST DEMOCRACY:

Making Mischief (Jonathan Spyer, 4/30/08, The Guardian)

Syria lacks the size of Egypt and the resources of Saudi Arabia. But it has been able to project power and influence in the region because of its willingness to support radicalism, act as a disruptive force and thus create a situation in which it cannot be ignored. Thus, Damascus backs a host of Palestinian groups opposed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Israel - including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PFLP-GC and others. Syria offered significant support to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. And most importantly, Damascus maintains influence in Lebanon - following its ignominious departure in 2005 - via its relationship with the pro-Iranian Shia militia, Hizbullah.

The ability to foment chaos and project influence in Lebanon is key for the Assad regime. The expulsion from that country was a personal humiliation for the young president, and its loss is exacting an economic cost on Damascus. Furthermore, the regime seeks to prevent at all costs the commencement of the work of the tribunal into the killing of former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri. Its chosen method for doing this is the fomenting of instability in Lebanon and the instrument it chooses to use is Hizbullah.

The mainstream Arab states - most importantly Egypt and Saudi Arabia - are frightened by the growth of Iranian influence across the region. They are furious with Syria for its backing of non-Arab Iran. But only by backing the radical power in the region can Syria maintain its powerful role as mischief-maker. No Iran means no more fomenting radicalism, no more reaping the benefits of having to be bought off, no more pro-Iranian militias to help out in Lebanon, no return to Lebanon, and the nightmarish possibility of seeing major regime figures collared for the killing of Hariri. It is a near certainty that the regime will prefer to maintain all of these - with the additional mobilising charge of the "occupied Golan" into the bargain - rather than give it all up and become a minor, status quo power.

In other words, Syria is too deeply committed, on too many levels, to its alliance with Iran to consider abandoning it for the Golan and the Arab mainstream. Syria's conflict with Israel can't be separated out from Damascus's larger regional concerns. Hence, with all due respect to the Turkish mediators, we are faced here with another manifestation of that well-known Middle Eastern phenomenon: much ado about nothing.


Except that there's no sign whatsoever that Israel cares about the Syrian role in terror throughout the region. Israel seems all too content to cut a deal with a minority totalitarian regime that it thinks can provide "stability." Because, after all, denying the peoples of the Middle East self-determination has worked out so well....

MORE:
The Shift Toward an Israeli-Syrian Agreement (George Friedman and Peter Zeihan, 5/01/08, JewishWorldReview.com)

Israel does not perceive Syria as a serious threat. Not only is the Syrian military a pale shadow of Israeli capability, Israel does not even consider sacrificing the Golan Heights to weakening the Israeli military meaningfully. The territory has become the pivot of public discussions, but losing it hasn't been a real problem for Israel since the 1970s. In today's battlefield environment, artillery on the heights would rapidly be destroyed by counter-battery fire, helicopter gunships or aircraft. Indeed, the main threat to Israel from Syria is missiles. Damascus now has one of the largest Scud missile and surface-to-surface missile arsenals in the region — and those can reach Israel from far beyond the Golan Heights regardless of where the Israeli-Syrian political border is located. Technological advances — even those from just the last decade — have minimized the need for a physical presence on that territory that was essential militarily decades ago. [...]

The Basis of a Deal

Israel and Syria's geopolitical interests diverge less than it might appear. By itself, Syria poses no conventional threat to Israel. Syria is dangerous only in the context of a coalition with Egypt. In 1973, fighting on two fronts, the Syrians were a threat. With Egypt neutralized now and behind the buffer in the Sinai, Syria poses no threat.


Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2008 8:06 PM
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