Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Syria’s Advantage in the Peace Process

As the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama struggles to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Syria is well positioned to benefit no matter the outcome.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Inter Press Service

As the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama struggles to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Syria is well positioned to benefit no matter the outcome.

Traditionally a spoiler in the process, Syria retains leverage with the two militant movements Israel fears most – Hamas and Hezbollah – and is also being courted by Washington to restart its own negotiation track with Israel.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Sep. 27 in New York with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for what both termed "constructive" talks. Muallem's deputy, Fayssal Mekdad, followed up with a two-day visit to Washington.

Interviewed Sep. 29 by IPS, Mekdad said Syria is not opposed to the current U.S.-led negotiating effort.

"We are neither party to the sceptics or those who oppose the talks," Mekdad said.

However, he blamed Israel for the current crisis and described progress so far as mere "pictures and poses."

Hamas, which controls Gaza and whose external leader, Khaled Meshaal, lives in Damascus, staged two attacks on Israeli settlers in the West Bank shortly after the talks began last month.

Last weekend, Syria hosted a meeting between Hamas and the other main Palestinian movement, Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) that governs the West Bank.

The factions split after Hamas won 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and violently expelled Fatah from Gaza in 2007. Efforts at reconciliation – mostly led by Egypt – have so far failed.

At the end of the weekend session, Meshaal urged a representative of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to tell Abbas to withdraw from negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if Israel fails to extend a partial moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank that expired on Sep. 26.

Netanyahu, who heads a right-wing coalition that opposes extending the moratorium, has been bargaining with the Obama administration over the terms of a 60-day extension.

Mekdad said reconciliation between the Palestinian factions is essential for the peace process to succeed.

The United States and Israel prefer to exclude Hamas because it does not recognise Israel or prior peace agreements between Israel and the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Mekdad said those who oppose Palestinian reunification "must know that without reconciliation, nothing will be achieved."

Syria is "exerting all pressure" to bring about Palestinian re-unification. "We wanted this reconciliation to take place yesterday," he said.

Still, the Syrian government has not called on Abbas to quit the negotiations with Israel.

David Schenker, a Levant expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), said that, in Syria's case, "the absence of a negative is certainly a positive."

Syrian restraint may reflect the view that the talks will collapse on their own, leading the Palestinians to take a harder line.

If so, it is also possible that Israel will turn toward peace negotiations with Syria.

The outlines of a settlement between the two countries are well known: the return to Syria of the Golan Heights captured by Israel in 1967; early warning monitoring stations in the Golan; and an end to Syrian military aid to Hezbollah.

Schenker said a renewed Syrian-Israeli peace track could help relieve international pressure on Syria on two fronts.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to conduct a special inspection in December of the site of a purported nuclear reactor in Syria that was bombed by Israel in 2007.

Damascus is also concerned about upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. While Syrian officials are no longer believed to be a target, a U.N. tribunal may finger members of Hezbollah.

U.S. Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell has visited Syria several times, most recently Sep. 16, to emphasise that the Obama administration seeks a comprehensive regional peace that includes Syria. However, Mekdad said Syria is not interested in U.S. mediation at this point.

He said Damascus preferred to return to proximity talks that were mediated by Turkey in 2007-2008 when Ehud Olmert was Israel's prime minister. They broke down after Israel mounted a major offensive against Gaza in December 2008.

Resuming Turkish mediation now appears to be a non-starter given the deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel following the Israeli interception of a flotilla of Turkish ships en route to Gaza in May that ended in the killing of nine Turkish citizens.

Analysts say that despite concerns over the IAEA and the Hariri case, Syria is in a relatively strong position. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad survived a concerted effort by the George W. Bush administration to remove him following the Hariri assassination.

David Lesch, a Syria expert at Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex. and the author of "The New Lion of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad and Modern Syria," says Assad used the Lebanon crisis to "re-organise the [ruling Baath] party and government and get rid of threats to the regime."

Assad also benefited as the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, and Israel lobbied Bush against regime change in Damascus, preferring "the devil you know" in Syria to a possibly more militant and less predictable replacement, Lesch said.

As a result, "by 2007-2008, Bashar was very confident that he was on the right side and the U.S. was on the wrong side," Lesch said. "His view was that the United States has to make concessions to improve relations with Syria," not the other way around.

The Obama administration is trying to return a U.S. ambassador to Damascus for the first time since 2005, although the confirmation of Robert Ford to that post has been held up in the Senate.

There is no indication so far, however, that the administration is seeking to ease economic sanctions on Syria which Mekdad described as "incorrect and based on political accusations."

Mekdad, an urbane former ambassador to the United Nations who wrote his thesis on the works of British author, Graham Greene, said relations with the United States had clearly improved after the "hatred" of Syria displayed by the previous U.S. administration.

"Syria is playing a pivotal role in all developments in the Middle East," he said. "Without Syria, nobody can connect the dots."

Indeed, al-Assad is travelling to Tehran this weekend to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials, presumably in part to reassure them of the durability of their alliance and to remind the Obama administration how pivotal Syria's role can be.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.


Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.


Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.


Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share