Friday, September 21, 2018

Does Syria Matter?

Does Syria Matter?

November 9, 2011 in 2009 January-February, In the News, International, Politics
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Tom Dine, former head of AIPAC, senior policy adviser at Israel Policy Forum, Washington, DC

Does Syria matter?
If our goal of creating a regional peace is to be achieved, we need Syria. A peace between Syria and Israel will give motivation and momentum to a peace between Palestine and Israel, and even create a dynamic link between Israel and Lebanon. They’re interconnected.

Is peace possible?
The Turks have been facilitating Israeli-Syrian talks for months now, but both sides say they can complete this deal in 2009 only if the Americans are “in the room” and the United States is a guarantor of the treaty. That means a demilitarization of the Golan, water rights for all the countries in the area, normalization between Jerusalem and Damascus and a clearly demarcated boundary that doesn’t touch the water of Lake Kinneret. The goal is to create an atmosphere of trust between the two governments. The first thing the Americans can do is return their ambassador to Damascus. The next step would be to decide whether to end sanctions. In return, we would expect Syria to tighten its Iraqi border, to distance itself from Iran, to stop re-arming Hezbollah, and to stop hosting the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, in Damascus. If the Obama Administration takes an active role in helping to bring these issues to a positive conclusion, an agreement could be completed before Hanukkah 2009.

 

David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, DC

Does Syria matter?
Syria undermines stability in Iraq, in Jordan, in Lebanon and in Israel/Palestine. Through active and unrelenting support for terrorism, it has made itself into a central player. Without Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, Syria would have virtually no influence in Iraq, Gaza or Lebanon. Its foreign policy in the region would be equivalent to that of Yemen.

Is peace possible?
The Syrians find negotiations for peace extremely useful. If the Syrians are talking to even two Israelis, it erodes international support for sanctions against Syria and for pursuing an international tribunal into the assassination of Rafik Hariri. After all, we wouldn’t want to find out that the Syrians killed Hariri and then have to hold them accountable for this murder, because that might derail the peace process. The next question is: Would the Syrian government consider it in their national interest to “join the Western camp?” They would get a free trade agreement, they might get membership in the World Trade Organization, they would have a European economic association agreement membership, and they would probably get U.S. economic assistance. But at best the United States would be a fickle friend, not a true strategic ally as Iran has proven to be over a 30-year period. The West is not an acceptable alternative, particularly if you look at what it means for Syrian regional influence. Talk to the Syrians if you must, but I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere.

 

Joshua Landis, administrator of Syria Comment blog, professor of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Does Syria matter?
Syria has a crucial role to play in four major areas: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, because it houses Hamas and is the main Arab “spokescountry” for resistance to Israel; terrorism, because Syria uses Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups to fight for the Golan Heights; Iraq, because jihadists still go from North Africa and Saudi Arabia through Syria into Iraq; and Lebanon, where its influence has become very important to America over the past six years.

Is peace possible?
Yes. Hafez Assad wanted to finish this deal in the 1990s when President Clinton led peace negotiations. He went to Geneva to meet with Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, but, as Clinton writes in his memoir, Barak got cold feet. It was a few months before elections, and Barak didn’t think he could get Israel to give back the Golan Heights. As happened with Egypt in 1979, Israel didn’t want to give up the Sinai, but Jimmy Carter closed the deal by providing Israel with gobs of money. If there could be peace with Israel—and everybody in Damascus is talking about it, as is Syria’s ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha—that would help lift the strict sanctions against Syria. America now has a chance to bring Syria away from anti-Western alliances that it has needed to fight the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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