Sunday, November 18, 2018

Does Syria Matter?

Does Syria Matter?

November 9, 2011 in 2009 January-February, In the News, International, Politics
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Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Washington, DC

Does Syria matter?
Syria is a spoiler. Unlike the Saudis, who have money, or the Lebanese, who have excellent education and human resources that they export to the Gulf, the Syrians have no economy, no natural resources. Their society is in shambles. Be it Hamas, Hezbollah or al-Qaeda in Iraq, sponsorship of terrorism is Syria’s only foreign policy tool. People want to talk to Syria so that it will stop killing people or sponsoring people who kill people. So everybody who has an interest in peace processing will eventually be tempted to deal with Syria’s blackmail, but to no avail.

Is peace possible?
The old peace agreement formula—land for peace—no longer applies. Now, as far as the Israelis are concerned, it’s peace in return for strategic reorientation of Syria—a formal break with the policy of the past 40 years, which is a non-starter. This would mean that Syria would have to break its alliance with Iran and stop supporting Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda in Iraq. Like Jordan and Egypt, it would become part of the pro-Western camp. Syria projects influence in the region well above its weight, and the only way for it to continue to do so is through proxy violence. A peace agreement would essentially end Syria’s role in the region.

 

Moshe Ma’oz, former adviser to Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Does Syria matter?
Syria is part of the Axis of Evil with Iran and Hezbollah. This is a real danger for Israel and also for the Sunni Arab countries that believe the Iranian threat is more serious than the Israeli threat. For Israel, the idea is to make peace with the Syrians to pull them out from this axis. One would assume that if Israel makes peace with Syria, Iran would cool relations with Syria. The Iranians have been quite concerned about the recent negotiations in Turkey. Another big issue is refugees. The Syrians have about 350,000 Palestinian refugees and so does Lebanon. Syria has enough room and if it gets money in a comprehensive settlement, it could help resolve the Palestinian issue by absorbing them.

Is peace possible?
Yes. It’s in the interest of both sides. The Syrians need peace, stability and economic development. Syria belongs to the Sunni Arab world, not to the Shi’ite world of Iran and Hezbollah. There are difficulties, but I think everybody in the Arab world is expecting them to join this Sunni Arab coalition and contain Iran. The Syrians also expect that America would be involved in the deal to guarantee that Israel will give back the Golan Heights. They also want American money, and European, Japanese and Gulf money, because their economy is failing. As we say jokingly, the Arabs want to make peace with America and they do it via Israel.

 

Michael Oren, senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and visiting professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Does Syria matter?
Syria is a very big country, has tremendous prestige in the Arab world and maintains a large army. For 1,000 years, Damascus has been a center of Arab identity.

Is peace possible?
The Alawite regime is hated by Sunni Muslims, and I think that peace will not further ingratiate the Alawites among the Sunnis. Peace also means that Syria would have to break its alliance with Iran, its most important regional ally. I think that even if Bashar Assad wanted to make peace with Israel, the Iranians would kill him. They are not going to wait around passively and let their major Arab ally go over to their major enemy in the Middle East.

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