Across the Bay

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Syrian Endgame

Michael Young writes in the Wall Street Journal about how "three conditions must govern any contact with the Assad regime." These conditions, which, by the way, were, according to several reports, the exact same conditions that the EU's Javier Solana handed Assad when he briefly met him in recent weeks, where even European support for renewed talks on the Golan, not to mention the Association Agreement, was reportedly conditioned on Syrian behavior in Lebanon (which is why I have said that the consensus in Saudi and EU is that Lebanon is the litmus test for Syria):

First, Syria must prove it accepts the Hariri tribunal by discontinuing efforts to thwart its endorsement in Lebanon. This also means eventually allowing Syrian officials to stand before the tribunal if they are implicated. Until now, Mr. Assad and his lieutenants have said Syrian suspects would only appear before Syrian courts. Second, Syria must respect U.N. resolutions on Lebanon, including Resolutions 1559 and 1701. This means, among other things, ending Syrian destabilization efforts and the arming of Hezbollah and other groups. And third, Damascus must formally accept Lebanese sovereignty and agree to the opening of embassies and a delineation of the border with Lebanon.

Another important part of the piece is Young's accurate description of the Syrian regime's interests and priorities (hint, they have nothing to do with the Golan, peace, etc.):

Syria has two priorities, both of which have contributed to increasing its censure internationally and in the Arab world. The first is regime survival. The Syrians feel threatened by the approaching formation of a tribunal to deal with the February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Syria is considered the main suspect in the crime, and in their most recent report, United Nations investigators preparing the legal case lent substantial credence to that assertion.


A second Syrian aim is to reimpose its hegemony over Lebanon. After the Lebanon war ended last summer, Syria encouraged its ally Hezbollah to mount an effective coup against the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. This failed after it led to growing Sunni-Shiite hostility, prompting Iranian and Saudi intervention to prevent an escalation that would have harmed their own interests.

Syria also appears to be trying to abort Lebanon's presidential election later this year, setting the stage for the creation of two rival governments in Beirut. Last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal warned against this eventuality. Syria is continuing to supply weapons to Hezbollah, in breach of Security Council Resolution 1701, as well as to other groups, and it still refuses to recognize Lebanese sovereignty, establish an embassy in Beirut, or delineate borders with its neighbor.

Mr. Assad understands that if relations between the U.S. and Iran improve in the coming months, Syria might be left dangling. That's one reason why he is so keen to reassert himself in Lebanon, which gives Syria regional relevance.

In other words, renewed Syrian colonization of Lebanon is the regime's objective. Never mind the nonsense about its supposed "real interests."

PS: for more on Syria's attempts to control the presidential elections through terror, see my old piece in the Daily Star.