Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Carrots and Sticks

Syria’s Carrot

Save for “Beirut Spring”, few noticed the not so veiled hints Bachar made that he wanted to come back to Lebanon.

What is remarkable is not that the Alawite dictator, representing less than 10% of Syria’s population, has the chutzpah to give us lessons in democracy, by claiming that "What's missing [in Lebanon] is a state in which all Lebanese consider themselves represented".

One can only be amazed that he still proposes himself as a mediator, claiming that “the only solution," Assad added, "is if all interested parties have confidence in Syria. The Americans need to talk to us to understand us, to know who we are and what we want […] If that's accomplished, it will then be possible" to disarm" Hezb.

This is indeed code for; “Let us control Lebanon again, then we will make peace and disarm Hezbollah”. He was either responding to Israeli overture, or manoeuvring within limits imposed on him by Iran.

Saudi Stick

He should be running for cover; the Saudis already warned him by planting the story of a Kanaan tape in Okaz, their government mouthpiece. To discerning Syrian observers, his defiance is puzzling. Maybe, since he is counting on “Iran [coming to his] defence by playing hardball in the oil-rich provinces of the kingdom where there is a sizable Shiite population”, he chooses defiance:

Oddly enough, this splendidly Byzantine episode has implications for the United States. Saudi Arabia and Syria are reportedly near, if not beyond, the breaking point in their relations--largely because of Assad's close connection with Iran and his support for Hezbollah, which the Saudi monarchy and the Bush administration see as major threats. Given that the U.S. has few options when it comes to imposing "behaviour change" in Syria--the administration's declared strategy--Saudi resentment creates new opportunities for it.

Iran’s Stick

It could be that Assad’s margin of manoeuvre is now strictly restricted; his alliance with Iran may have turned Syria into a satellite of that country. While it is true that Syria has drawn much strength from the alliance with Iran, Bashar’s room of manoeuvre may have been restricted.

He has already been politely warned that Syria better tow the line, and properly serve Iran's foreign policy objectives. The statement by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmoud Vaezi to Iason Athanasiadis is revealing;

“If Syria wants to have peace with Israel, this is their own issue, Maybe we don't support them, but we can't bother them over it either. Syria will receive our diplomatic support. More than that depends on what kind of positions Syria will adopt".

No doubt the Iranians have infiltrated Syria's “Mokhabarat”, like they did Lebanon. Much of the Israeli defeat was not only owed to lack of Israeli Intelligence (no pun intended), but also to effective Iranian work:

The Revolutionary Guard is keen to broaden its involvement in the Middle East in general and enhance its intelligence-gathering capabilities on activities in the Mediterranean region. In addition to Israel, which is an obvious target of this intelligence-gathering effort, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and American forces in the region are also of great interest.

In the dance with Hezb and Iran, Syria may not be leading.

Russia’s Stick?

In the piece I cite above, Ze’ev Shiff also hinted that Russia’s involvement was not so benign.

It is indeed worthy of note that the Russian engineers going to Lebanon to rebuild the bridges are not really needed there. We have a lot of engineering contractors and consultants looking to make up their summer losses.

Those units are backed up by the Vostok and Zapad Special Forces battalions, from the 42nd Mechanized Division of the U/I Army Corps. Unless I there are 2 eponymous units ("Vostok; восточно” means East, and "Zapad; западно”, means West), Those battalions were apparently involved in mopping up operations, “zachistka”, in which human rights violations may have occurred. Oddly, Vostok battalion commander Suliman Yamadayev, was a separatist brigadier general during the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya. His brother Ruslan would be Russia's man in charge of Chechnya.

War makes strange bedfellows; this is worth following up and verifying.

In the presence of such peculiar "Russians", Schiff’s piece could also be another Byzantine message. But the cold war is far behind us, if the Russians are looking for anything, it could be a better deal in the new world order. It is possible that those units were singled out for easy duty, in recognition of their services to the motherland; their other posting in the region, in Syria, is viewed by officers on assignment as a rather cushy job.

Neither Carrot nor Stick may work;

The main parameters have not changed, and I therefore remain convinced that Syria can afford neither war nor peace; just a continued status quo ante. It is too weak for war, and the Alawite regime will lose power if they implement the reforms made necessary by peace.

Most likey, Bashar is only hoping to buy more time; by waiting Bush out, he may be hoping for one more chance for a bite at the apple.

All this manoeuvring may be aimed at standing still. But nature not only abhors a vacuum, it also strives for change and evolution.And Bashar may also be grossly underestimating the United Nations' resolve, and overestimating Aoun's enmity to Hariri...

Again, Iran may be using him and Hezb as bargaining chips...

And the Americans in All this?

They are unlikely to much; this looks like a European game for now. God Help us.

On the long run, a lame duck US president has to focus on ensuring his party's victory in 2008, even if it means supporting McCain. In the immediate, They are too busy winning in Iraq, and have a November election to worry about; they are a long way from winning American hearts and minds...

American policy in the Middle East, will need more than Yellow Ribbons on SUV's.


demabloggery said...

This is a good blog. Thanks.


Jeha said...


R said...

You make a good point jeha, actually quite a few good points. The Syrian regime cannot afford war, which I think would be suicidal for them. The question of whether they want peace or not is open though. I am sure that peace would not please Iran, on the other hand it can be argued that for the right "price" the Syrian regime might be won.
Obviously, the price that the Syrians will take for leaving the Iranian fold, is too high for the American administration to pay. And the Israelis don't seem too thrilled about it either. Hence, the status quo ante that yuo talked about.
I honestly don't knwo how it would be best to handle Syria. THey sure as hell aren't making our lives easier in Lebanon...