Sunday, June 22, 2008

Porcupines at Work...

It’s been slow going in this neck of the woods. Much hype, but little action; for all their new found ardor, Israelis and Syrians are merely talking about “peace”. But Just like two porcupines making love, their embattled leaders need to “tread” very carefully.

Each has to achieve a three-way balance; aside from ensuring their personal survival and guaranteeing their country’s piece of the regional pie, they also have to contend with the interests of their respective patrons.

Personal Survival

Each leader’s personal survival is at stake here.

Bashar’s succession of Hafez is not yet fully secure. In the immediate, he is helped by “delays” in the setup of the Hariri tribunal, but the pressure at home is not abating, considering the in-laws...

Olmert’s own future does not look too rosy either. As the corruption scandal grows, his many challengers are eager for a fight. They may find allies “inside” his fast-disintegrating Kadima party; with most MK’s are worried about their own future, some of his ministers are ready to ditch him; those “فخاض” killed before, you know.


...What a way to go

Regional “Place”

For all their bravado, both Syria and Israel remain essentially limited regional players.

Over the past 50 years, the Syrians have tried hard to punch above their weight, but the days of the Omeyyads are far behind us. As the bills have piled up, Syria found fewer willing patrons wiling to subsidize its quest for Gandeur; for all practical purposes, “Greater Syria” had to be defined down to a conquest of Lebanon, an ambition now limited to keeping its cards active, which is becoming an unqiquely dangerous game. Such confessional tensions can easily spill over; when Aoun was agitating, Hafez had only Bab Touma to worry about. But a Sunni-Shiite war is another matter. In addition, Bashar has some nuclear fallout to worry about, even if the UN is keep relatively quiet about Syria’s beach of its nuclear engagements.

In contrast, Israel has been able to punch far above its weight for the past 50 years, but it is fast reaching the limits of this success, and it cannot grow further without the the Palestinians. Rather than settling the deserted Negev, Jews have elected to settle the populated West Bank. As a result, they find themselves increasingly enmeshed with the Palestinians who make up at least 20 % of its own citizenry, but 55% of the inhabitants of the land of Palestine.

For better or worse, Israel’s consolidation of “defensible borders” led it to an expansion that has now reached its demographic limits, and Israelis and Palestinians are growing into one another, just like aging Siamese twins. As time goes on, the links will deepen, and “separation” will become ever harder. . Talking to the Syrians may feel good for a while, but it will do nothing to address the key issue; while we all need peace, Israel needs legitimacy. The secret word?

Right of Return.

They can redefine it. They can fudge it. But they cannot, ever, avoid it.

The Patrons

Finally, both Israelis and Syrians have to contend with their respective patrons; the Americans and the Iranians.

There has been much talk that, under the current administration, no peace deal is possible. In that view, the best the two sides can achieve is very careful foreplay until a more accommodating new guy is in place in the White House.

However, that talk misses the point; the disagreement between Iran and the United States is systemic, and the Persians do not hold too many cards. And whoever comes to the White House still needs the oil to flow in.

So, if Syria cannot wean itself from Iranian petrodollars, Israel will find that the keys to its “carte du tendre" with Damascus’ now lays at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, in a couple of small rock outcrops fought over by Persians and Arabs

... Ouch?

One wonders why the Turks decided to drag themselves in the midst of this fun fest; the current AK leadership maybe among the most adept and thoughtful this country had for a long time…

Turkish involvement could well reflect the internal politics of a country split between the “secular” establishment and their supporters in the army, and the “islamists” parvenus and its support among Turkey’s Kurdish population. Alternatively, it could be that the Turks know something we Lebanese don’t, or dread.

In either case, it’s a high stakes gamble for Turkey. While I understand Turkey’s interest for a stabilized regional game, even the potentially high rewards of a “success” deal do not justify the high cost of failure. There are cheaper, more durable ways to maintain regional stability, after all…

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