Across the Bay

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Bayanouni on Talks With Israel

The head of the Syrian MB, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, told Reuters that should the MB reach power in Syria, it would be ready to open peace talks with Israel.

Bayanouni did stress that his group would not rule out any venue to restore the Golan, be it political or military. It should be kept in mind that there were similar mumblings by the regime about the possibility of resorting to military options in the Golan.

Nevertheless, in a rare statement by an Islamist figure, Bayanouni reportedly said that his group is willing to open peace talks with Israel, "if talks lead to withdrawal from the occupied lands and grant Palestinians their rights, then where would be the problem? There is no problem."

The Reuters report contrasted Bayanouni's statement with Hamas' position which does not even recognize Israel. The implication is that the Syrian MB may not necessarily share the position of the Palestinian Islamists (Hamas) or Egypt's for that matter. Bayanouni and Khaddam have both expressed their belief that the Israeli government prefers the survival of the Assad regime over chaos or the arrival to power of Islamists in Syria. Bayanouni told Reuters, "I think a big part of the support the regime gets is because of the fear of reaching a similar result to what happened in Iraq," adding that foreign pressure could lead to the collapse of the regime.

The aim of Bayanouni's statements, and of the NSF in general, is to present a sensible, statesmanly alternative to the Assad regime to regional powers, including Israel.

Furthermore, such a position, seemingly distancing the MB from Hamas (at least rhetorically), is aimed at the Sunni Arab regional players: Jordan and Egypt. Jordan's displeasure with Hamas and Syria is well known, and has been exacerbated in recent weeks. Egypt is also said to have differences with Syria on the Palestinian issue as apparent from the conflicting statements of Abul Gheit and Moallem after the summit on Thursday, and given the full support for Hamas' hardline by the Syrian regime, which is but an Iranian proxy at this point, and, along with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, is part of the Tehran led axis in the Levant.

In the end, this is all part of the NSF's emerging campaign of regional diplomacy and the competition between the NSF and the regime, especially given reports of growing regional annoyance with Assad.

Bayanouni repeated his conviction that the Syrian regime was "fully involved" in the Hariri assassination. He added, "the Syrian regime is living in a state of fear and terror and does not know what the Hariri report will lead to." Furthermore, he said that the Syrian officials believe that an international indictment in the Hariri assassination would lead to the growing of the internal opposition. "The Syrian regime is afraid. It's afraid of the internal situation which has led to an increase in repression."

Update: Bayanouni followed up on his interview and denied saying that his group is ready to assume power in Syria. Instead he called for a national coalition government.

He did repeat however that in principle his group does not reject restoring Syrian rights from Israel through negotiations and a political settlement, provided the other side is willing.