The Syrian Opportunity

Mapsyria "In a move that could bolster the credibility of the Bush administration’s upcoming Mideast peace talks, Syria has decided to send a representative to attend the conference this week in Annapolis, Md., the country’s official news agency, Sana, reported today.

Deputy foreign minister Faysal Moqdad will attend Tuesday’s talks as head of a Syrian delegation, the news agency reported. Syria decided to attend after gaining confirmation that the disputed Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, would be on the agenda, a ranking Syrian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

"We received what we have asked for, which is the schedule, and on it is the Syrian-Israeli track," said the official. "Based on that, we decided to go.""  LA Times


Syria has been seeking a way to talk seriously to Washington for  long time.  Israel’s willingness to discuss the return of Syrian territory on the Golan Heights provides a chance to do just that.

I am still of the opinion that little will result from the Palestinian-Israeli meeting at Annapolis, but there is a real chance that the Syrian aspect of the festering mess that is the Middle East could be cleared up in the near future.

Syria is extremely uncomfortable with its hostile non-relationship with the US and would go a long way in attempting to resolve that situation.

Lebanon, the "alliance" with Iran, past support of terrorist groups, all of those things could be "in play" if the United States (and Israel) accept the concept of real reconciliation with Syria.  pl,0,3825646.story?coll=la-home-world

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17 Responses to The Syrian Opportunity

  1. condfusedponderer says:

    In my eyes any compromise between Syria and Israel would be an improvement.
    From all the problems Israel has, the one with Syria would probably be the one they can most easily tackle. The Syrian conditions are well known, with the more recent addition of them wanting to have the US off their back. The Israeli demands are just as predictable. I think that given there is sufficient political will, and honest US support, a deal is ‘doable’.
    If such a deal materialises, I presume the US will foolishly insist that Syria stop ‘meddling’ in Lebanon. If the Syrians don’t have a reason to stir up trouble their influence there will be helpful. They certainly know the place well enough. All speculation, but anyway.
    Considering that in Israel’s splendid little war on Hezbollah neo-cons were angry at Israel for not attacking Syria, gives a glimpse on how much they would favour such a deal. They will do their very best to undermine the Annapolis conference.
    In the last years US policy on Syria has not only been unhelpful, but actively obstructive. It remains to be seen if the attitude has really changed.

  2. robt willmann says:

    When I read the above post about Syria’s decision to attend the Annapolis so-called conference, I thought I remembered an earlier post by the Colonel to the effect that a peace agreement between Syria and Israel had basically been structured, and then the U.S. government decided it “did not really want the deal”, and Ehud Barak (prime minister of Israel at the time?) didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to do it anyway (but Barak did have the courage to work on president Bill Clinton to give the indicted fugitive Marc Rich a pardon).
    I think I have found that post, which concerned Uri Sagi and the negotiations with Syria, and it should be here–
    Since Barak is now the Israeli defense minister (or something like that), the chances for an agreement with Syria are probably less likely.
    An interesting note in the underlying article on which the prior post was based is that “the Iranians in 1991 gave Syria a green light to join the Madrid Conference and promised not to disrupt the negotiations with Barak”.
    Perhaps someone could slip Mr. Sagi a visa and he can come over here, hang out by the press room at the conference, and start talking to reporters with and without TV cameras about how a deal really had been done before and it could be done again; in fact, it could be done right here at this very conference.
    Such a creative act by Mr. Sagi would of course be censored by the large U.S. media organizations, who want no such peace with Syria, but the Internet will pick it up, as would some foreign reporters, perhaps even those from Al Jazeera.
    If Israel has a law like the U.S. does that private people are not supposed to do diplomacy, Mr. Sagi need not worry: he’s just telling people a bit of relevant history as an eyewitness.

  3. Walrus says:

    My take is that this conference is about dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” before Iran is attacked.
    I would expect any proposals coming out of the Bush Administration and the Israelis would be carefully crafted to display a veneer of reasonableness to Americans, while being totally unacceptable to the Arabs and Palestinians.
    The purpose of this conference being to provide Bush with a photo opportunity a month from now saying “Syria could have chosen peace, but they chose war.”
    I’m sorry for being so cynical, but what’s changed? What possible evidence is there that Washington or Tel Aviv would negotiate in good faith???

  4. chimneyswift says:

    This sounds like a great opportunity, but the US foriegn policy ever since the end of the cold war seems more aimed at keeping a stable of “bad guys” available than it does negotiating better arrangements with them. In the case of Syria I believe there are two strikes against any progeress going in.
    First, the neo-cons want to bomb Syria.
    Second, Syria sided with the Soviets in the Cold War, and as far as I can tell, very few people that matter have fully adapted to a post-Cold War reality. If indeed it is desired at all.

  5. sheerahkahn says:

    I have to remind myself that lil Assad is not his father, with his father’s fox-like craftiness, nor is he Arafat either, who, imo, pissed on anything remotely resembling peace even when he got everything he wanted…not that his (Arafat’s) response was unexpected.
    Will the Syrian’s get the Golan heights back…more than likely, especially if they sing like nightengales and flutter their pretty almond eyes, whispering the sweet empty promises of fidelity to whatever the American script the negotiators pen in the agreement.
    G-d, Bush is such a buffoon, and just like Clinton he’ll want the two to make nice-nice for at least till he leaves office so that he can point at one thing from his administration and say, “hey, at least I did one thing…somewhat okay!”
    Anyway, I give any peace deal between Syria and Israel…three years, four tops, before they’re at it again, tooth and nail.

  6. I cannot comment on the details – these topics are way over my head.
    From a broad perspective, however, I’m getting an inkling that Bush may have changed his stance. He’s always reminded me of Maggie the Iron Lady when she would pronounce over and over and over that “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” Of course, negotiating with terrorists actually helped bring an end to The Troubles.
    Has Bush recognized that strutting around like The Enforcer hasn’t worked? This article sure is full of touchy-feely diplomacy talk.

  7. Mad Dogs says:

    Just my own SWAG (with no actual science involved *g*), but it sure does seem that the Sunni-dominated states, in particular Saudi Arabia, have used their considerable “persuasive” powers to try to split Syria from its political patron, Iran.
    As Syria is also dominantly populated by Sunnis (75% of its Muslim population), the minority Shia Alawites who rule are always hearing Syrian Sunni footsteps coming up behind them that don’t suggest friendly intentions.
    But don’t hold your breath expecting a Syrian Sunni political leadership sunrise anytime soon.
    As has been commonplace for decades (if not centuries), the current Syrian leadership embodied by Assad Junya has much practice in fence-sitting and can double-talk with the best.
    Syria, never has a winning hand, but always has a bet to place.

  8. David W says:

    This is another level of the chessboard, so to speak. I appreciate the Col’s opinion, while also thinking that the western media characterization is incomplete; the best I can add here are a couple of links to ‘local’ sites that I go to for analysis, along with some good comments:
    Across the Bay-Beirut to Bayside
    Syria Comment
    Good commentary on both the Lebanese situation, and Syria’s participation at Annapolis.

  9. condfusedponderer says:


    U.S. officials initially rejected Syria’s condition for coming to Annapolis, saying the conference would focus entirely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But later they added a conference session to discuss a “comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
    That was enough to satisfy Syria that it could use the gathering to demand a return of the captured territory.
    “We received what we have asked for, which is the [conference] schedule, and on it is the ‘Syrian-Israeli track,’ ” said a Syrian official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Based on that, we decided to go.”
    Another Syrian involved in the decision said, “We have to use every opportunity we get to raise the issue of Golan. Wasting this chance will harm our efforts.”
    Hadley, in a conference call with reporters, said the Golan Heights was not specifically on the agenda but added that the Syrians were “free to address the issues that they want to address.”

    from the LA Times.
    Not sure what Hadley actually meant with that. Was it: “They can say whatever they want.” or: “We’re actually interested in what they have to say.” I don’t know, it doesn’t sound too enthusiastic from the US side.
    To me it sounds as if they only included Syria as a result of Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian pressure. In that case I expect little new. It would suggest that the US are still reluctant to take a broker role on Israeli-Syrian relations.
    But then, I’d like to be surprised.

  10. condfusedponderer says:

    Reluctant? I meant unwilling.

  11. Mo says:

    Guys, Arab participation is required as the fig leaf to cover the fact that the Palestinians are not represented by their elected representatives and this will permamently side line them when the pre-agreed terms of Palestinian surrender are signed (Does anyone believe that Abbas would be getting APC’s if their wasn’t an agreement?)
    Saudi participation is happening because they are trying so hard to be the leader of the gang but just don’t know how to be as “cool” or as “tough” as the Iranians.
    Syrian participation is a given. They are dying to be on talking terms with the West but are so redundant of diplomatic technique that they will do the bull and china shop routine and wonder why no one will go near them.
    Not entirely sure why Slovenia has been invited though.
    And sheerahkahn,
    I have only been following Middle Eastern affairs for 30 odd years. Perhaps I was born too late to know when Arafat “got everything he wanted”. Of course, if you are going to reply by refering to Baraks pathetic offer of mini-cantons in Dayton then not to worry, i’m bored of trying to disuade people from believing that trite piece of propoganda.

  12. jonst says:

    Whatever else one can say about the this admin, and the present situation on DC, we can say, with assurance, it is impossible to be “too cynical”.
    The Across the Bay crowd are a particularly noxious and rabid group of Neo-Cons. They may, occasionally, lurch, blindly, into the truth every once in awhile. But it is sheer happenstance when they do. They are group of Lebanese ready to fight to the last American

  13. Babak Makkinejad says:

    This about “managing expectations”.
    Normally, in business world, what this means is that one meets with the various stakeholders and tries to address their concerns all the while trying to limit the scope of any actual deliverables to them [limit expenditure and minimize your own work]. In such situations one may have to accept a lot of flak from the customer but as long as the other side leaves the table without receiving much from you then all is well. And the more the number of participants the less chance of customer or his representatives being able to agree on concrete expectations from you.
    The Annapolis Conference is an exercise in “managing customer’s expectations”.
    The customers in this case are the un-popular and un-representative Arab states, the pathetic [America-Lite] EU states, and the Mr. Abbas crowd of the Palestinians. Those who can deliver [of which only 3 are participating] are Syria, US, Israel, Iran, Hizbuallah, and Hamas.
    Moreover, the very fact that more than 40 states and organizations have been invited indicates that there can never ever be anything useful for the cause of Peace in Palestine emerging here.
    Syria is participating in a very low level for the same reason – “managing expectations”. So they show up and score a few points with this or that state and go back to status quo.

  14. David W says:

    jonst, thanks for supplying the (missing) critical analysis–due to our newborn son, i’ve been shorthanding my comments, when I can get them in.
    fwiw, I think that both blogs I mentioned should be viewed with a critical eye, yet I feel that they do supply insight and perspective that is missing from western sources.
    also, I should mention that I find the ME variant ‘neocon’ to be an interesting character (ie. my Syrian cousin who thought, at least in 2003, that Boosh would ride in to save the region). I do find the B2B crowd’s comments about Aoun and Geagea to be informative, though. Do you think that they (mostly) get this part of the equation right?

  15. Mo says:

    In regards to the B2B crowd, I was going to post about my distaste for them and their beliefs but that is better left to less cerebral sites. Sufficeth to say that most of them seem to be based outside Lebanon and would therefore be unaffected by the consequences of their calls for unilateral behaviour by the governing elite.
    Their equation and beliefs about Aoun and Geagea are but wishful thinking.
    The Christian community in Lebanon is Western leaning but it is also well educated and fiercely patriotic. Right now to them, Geagea is obviously part of a Western plans for Lebanon while Aoun’s connection to/submission to Syria is highly debatable. Furthermore, most Christians deplore the idea of being represented by a man like Geagea, a man so steeped in Lebanese blood, both Christian and not. Aoun has lost some support for his association with HA but nearly as much as these people like to think. He is the only one coming up with workable ideas to solve the impasse, and the only real option of President being talked about and as such is slowly regaining those lost supporters.

  16. jonst says:

    David W,
    Congratulations on the birth of you child! Wish you the best.
    Agreed….David. The site is representative of a particular point of the view in the ME. I find that view repulsive, in many cases. But helpful. Like the canary in a coal mine.

  17. David W says:

    Thank you Mo–I appreciate your insight, and will have more questions as things progress. I hope that PL will continue the Lebanon thread, as I think that it is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

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