Across the Bay

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Khaddam on Syria, Iran, and Hizballah

Former Syrian VP Abdel Halim Khaddam gave an interview to the Israeli-Palestinian radio station "Voice of Peace" in which he reiterated his accusation that Bashar personally gave the order to kill Hariri. He also repeated his call for the downfall of the Asad regime.

But this time Khaddam touched on other matters, including Hizballah and Iran:

"The relationship between Syria and Iran is not a strategic one", he said. "Strategic cooperation should exist between two independent strategies, but Assad has no strategy. He, in fact, serves the Iranian's interest in the region. I support friendly relations among neighboring countries, but there is a difference between friendliness and situation where one country is the other's puppet".

This is certainly not news, but it is important to be noted once again. This is something I said in my article on Syrian-Saudi relations after Hariri, that Bashar has already made his strategic choice with Iran. What we're seeing in terms of attempts by some Arab states at buying him off away from Iran are truly misguided. Bashar made that choice clear the day after he murdered Hariri. He is not up for grabs, as, say, Qatar, or some parties in Saudi Arabia, may think.

There are those in Saudi who fear Iran more than they fear the US, and those who hold the opposite view. The result, a veritable squaring of the circle, is an attempt to buy off Bashar in order to both oppose the US and halt Iranian expansion into the Levant. Yet they will achieve neither objective.

In fact, that policy really shows how irrelevant and impotent these states are. They will become increasingly so should Iran get the bomb. Bashar, I think, may have figured this out, and he believes it benefits him more to be an Iranian client/proxy. It certainly fits with his preference for brinkmanship, and is quite clear from his hardline ideological rhetoric, which essentially parrots Ahmadinejad's. Khaddam's characterization is therefore correct.

Khaddam then moves on to Hizballah:

"Syria indeed helps them with arms and support. The Israeli occupation has ended, what's left is the Sheba farm issue, but Lebanon's government needs to be supported. With that in mind, supplying arms (from Syria to Hizbullah) is a mistake"

Although one cannot draw firm conclusions based on so little, it seems that Khaddam's line -- perhaps not surprisingly -- supports the Jumblat-Hariri line in Lebanon (indeed the Taef Accord and UNR 1559) with regards to Hizballah and the Shebaa Farms. It's no longer Hizballah that should be in charge of the Shebaa affair, it's the Lebanese government, which should be strengthened and supported (perhaps also a jab at how Syria is using HA to undermine the government).

But there may be a message to the Israelis here as well. Again, I say this very tentatively, and I may indeed be reading too much into this. But I think this is a fair reading nevertheless. Khaddam does address the Israelis directly in the interview:

"Israel is interested in keeping Assad in power because he is weak and he weakens Syria. They want Syria to be weak and deprived. I say to the people of Israel – if you really want peace – implement the UN resolutions about the Palestinian land and the rest of the land occupied in 1967."

Is Khaddam marketing himself to the Israelis? If you get on board toppling Assad, and support my program (along with the Sunni forces, the MB and perhaps the Kurds too), I could stop support to Hizballah, and we would not light up the Golan either. We'd negotiate, essentially based on the Saudi plan.

Speaking of the Saudis, if indeed these are Khaddam's messages to the Israelis, they function equally as missives to the Saudis, especially the part about Syria and Iran. I will rectify Syrian relations with Iran. And I would endorse Abdullah's regional plan (which Bashar had sabotaged). In other words, I would not only keep Syria in the Sunni orbit, I would also keep stability (which is the magic word).

Of course, I may be reading too much into a few lines, but I think the overall picture is in the ball park. If this is Khaddam's proposal, it certainly offers a much more convincing alternative to the inept stalemate offered by some Arab states when it comes to Bashar and Iran. It's no coincidence that Jumblat has been pushing this line as well, and has been working hard to sabotage any Arab "initiative" favoring Bashar in Lebanon.

At the end of the day, if the Arabs do not go with a similar option, they may soon find themselves on the periphery of power politics in the ME.