Sunday, August 06, 2006

"It's Not Syria's Problem Anymore," by Robert Baer

Appointment In Damascus
In March I asked an old friend what he though would happen in Lebanon. 'It's not Syria's problem anymore,' he told me. 'We gave Lebanon to Iran.'

By Robert Baer
Newsweek International
Aug. 14, 2006

In March I ran into an old friend in Damascus, a Syrian businessman close to President Bashar al-Assad. I asked him what he thought would happen in Lebanon. "It's not Syria's problem anymore," he told me. "You threw us out. We gave Lebanon to Iran."

I never thought forcing Syria out of Lebanon had been a good idea. The Lebanese government left in charge was weaker than the one that

had been powerless to stop the civil war in 1975. Brutal as its rule had been, it was Syria that put an end to that war with the 1989 Taif accord. Syria kept Hizbullah in check, limiting its parliamentary representation in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections. With the Syrian Army gone, I feared, Lebanon would again become a divided and dangerous country.

To be sure, Damascus is hardly a benign influence. It arms Hizbullah and harbors violent Palestinian groups. Still, when Syria controlled Lebanon, Damascus was the closest thing America had to a return address for Hizbullah's terrorists. This was never clearer than during the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. When passengers were about to be executed on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport, President Ronald Reagan appealed to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who ordered his commanders in Lebanon to gas up their tanks and prepare to crush the militia. Hizbullah released the hostages.

There were other occasions. In 1987, after Hizbullah kidnapped ABC correspondent Charles Glass within sight of a Syrian checkpoint, the Syrian Army pulled Hizbullah members out of their cars and beat them. Glass was soon free. When the group kidnapped two U.N. employees in 1988, along with others, Assad threatened to arrest Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a cleric close to Hizbullah, and hang him. Hizbullah quickly let the captives go. In July 1982, a Lebanese Christian militia kidnapped the Iranian chargé d'affaires, two other Iranian diplomats and a Leba-nese journalist. In hopes of an exchange, Iran's Republican Guards arranged to kidnap David Dodge, the acting president of the American University of Beirut, and smuggle him across the border to Syria and thence to Tehran. Washington protested to Assad, who was furious. Unless Iranian authorities freed Dodge, he told Tehran, Syria would expel the Republican Guards from Lebanon. Needless to say, Dodge soon arrived unharmed in Damascus.

As I say, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it was the Syrians who kept the lid on Lebanon. So the idea of Damascus's handing its Lebanon portfolio to Tehran sounded like trouble. What happens next, I asked my Syrian contact. He shrugged, then dropped a bombshell. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus in January, he claimed, the Iranian president had met a shadowy figure in the terrorist world named Imad Mughniyah, the man widely suspected of kidnapping Dodge and killing U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem during the TWA hijacking, among other bloody episodes.

I'd heard this story before. The Mossad was big on it, but I've never quite believed it. The point is that my source did. Essentially, he was telling me he feared that Lebanon was spinning out of control—with dangerous consequences for everyone, including his own country. Freed from Syria's restraint, Hizbullah might soon be hijacking planes and kidnapping people again. If backed by Iranian radicals, it could go even further.

At the time I didn't imagine the full-scale war that has since erupted. But in retrospect, it's hardly surprising. Western diplomats may now seek a ceasefire and send in international peacekeepers. Israel may create an ethnically clean "buffer zone" along its northern border. But does anyone really believe the violence will stop? Will Iran prove a better safety valve than Syria? Not likely.

When the last Syrian tank rattled across the border last year, Syria fell back on a policy of trying to seal itself off from the chaos it could see building around it in Iraq and Lebanon. Bashar al-Assad especially fears the sort of crisis his father confronted in February 1982, when an insurrection backed by the Muslim Brotherhood broke out in Hamah. Assad senior contained it by flattening the town with heavy artillery. Combing through the rubble, the Syrians were astonished to find that the rebels' weapons had come from Lebanon. With no strong central government, it had become a failed state, an open arms bazaar and a haven for terrorists the world over. Today Syria sees history repeating itself, only worse.

Baer, a former CIA officer, is author of "Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude."

Critics Cite 'Constrained' Mideast Policy
U.S. Refusal to Engage Syria, Iran and Palestinians Said to Limit Negotiation Options

By Glenn Kessler and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 6, 2006; A16
The Bush administration's policy of refusing to engage with nations and groups linked to terrorism, including Syria, Iran and Palestinian factions, has sharply limited U.S. maneuvering room during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, according to former administration officials and outside experts.

Iran is Hezbollah's prime sponsor, and Syria is the key conduit for the flow of missiles that have rained on Israeli territory -- facts that experts say make those countries essential to achieving a lasting solution. But after nearly six years in office, the administration has had increasingly limited contacts with those countries, if such contacts exist at all. Former officials charge that the administration has missed numerous opportunities to encourage Syria and Iran to cooperate more closely with U.S. interests....

Senior administration officials reject the criticism, saying they have made it clear what they expect from countries such as Syria, which they say has failed to respond appropriately. "The problem is, talking is not a substitute for strategy, and at the end of the day, countries make choices, and Syria has made, in our view, bad choices -- bad for them, bad for us and bad for the Syrian people," said national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

The administration's approach is enshrined in the National Security Strategy released earlier this year, which asserts that "the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them."...

For instance, administration officials have always demanded that Syria prevent militant groups from operating on its territory but have never explained what Syria would get in return. Leverett said the administration should have explicitly linked Syria's removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism to its expelling groups such as Hamas and severing the links that allow arms to flow to Hezbollah.

Syria also could be induced to cooperate if it receives some acknowledgment that it has a role in an Arab-Israeli peace deal, experts said. Syria nearly reached a peace agreement with Israel during the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration has been reluctant to involve Syria in its peace efforts.

Richard N. Haass, the State Department's director of policy planning in Bush's first term and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that after intense diplomatic engagement, Syria in the 1990s joined the coalition that ousted Iraq from Kuwait and was the first country to accept the U.S. invitation to join an Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid. "This administration tends to look at diplomatic interaction as an inducement or a reward, something to bestow, rather than seeing it as a neutral tool in foreign policy," he said.

After Syria was suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri last year, Rice withdrew the U.S. ambassador in Damascus. In the absence of high-level U.S. contacts, the European Union has tried to fill the breach, sending Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to meet with Assad.

Moratinos reported that Assad was willing to help but also wanted to take part in talks on a "comprehensive and lasting peace" for the region -- suggesting he is seeking the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

Syria provided intelligence about radical extremist groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Leverett said. The CIA praised the quality of the information, he said, but a State Department effort to build on that relationship was thwarted by the Pentagon and Vice President Cheney's office.

"As unattractive as they are, the Syrians are in a position to affect U.S. interests in Iraq and Lebanon," Haass said. "We should be having a broad-based dialogue with them -- not as a favor to them but as a favor to ourselves."

James Dobbins, former U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and now at the Rand Corp., said the administration's approach has similarly been counterproductive in countering the deteriorating situation in Iraq. He said the United States has made little effort to engage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in helping to stabilize the country.

"We can't possibly stabilize Iraq unless we use the same methods that we used to stabilize Bosnia and Afghanistan," Dobbins said. "In both cases, we did that by engaging our adversaries and giving them a privileged place at the bargaining table."


At 8/06/2006 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Philip I said...

New post:

Security Council Corners Syria

At 8/06/2006 01:26:00 PM, Blogger sandroloewe said...

Syria is greeting war because they know they are going to have war anyway as long as they support HA with the final intention of getting back their role in Lebanon. They seem interested in accelerating the process to fight side by side with HA before things get worse for them after international intervention. It is very credible that Nasrallah is hiden in Damascus and that some missiles are being hit from Syria but Israel does not want a confrontation NOW. They know to wait and retaliate at the right time. Retaliation is one of their most preciated values.
For this reason I think Israel will finish first the job in Lebanon and then will leave time for the world to see how Iran and Syria move behind HA. Then, after having reduced the danger of HA attacks and after having had all preparations Israel will hit Syria or Iran or both altogether.

The real clash of civilizations is likely to be right now in Beirut. Nuclear bombs can be the climax point of this so-called clash. The question is Damascus or Iran ?

At 8/06/2006 04:43:00 PM, Blogger SimoHurtta said...

Sandroloewe you seem to have a rather blind trust in Israel’s army’s ”capacity and skills” not to mention to the tolerance of the world. Reality is no videogame which you can restart if you are loosing. By the way how could Israel start a war against Iran? They do not have even common borders. Nukes - are you nuts.

The belief that Hizbollah is a “mindless remote robot” of Syria and Israel is rather laughable. Hizbollah is rather common independence army which seeks outside support from there it can get it. History is full of these kinds of organizations; even Haganah, Irgun and Stern Gang have many similarities with Hizbollah. During the processes that lead to the Finnish independence, Finnish underground organizations tired to get support of Russia’s enemies, naturally. The main helper was Germany which trained soldiers and gave weapons to be smuggled to Finland. Was this core of the so called white army a German proxy army? Of course it was in a sense that for Germany but not for Finns. Could Germany have been able to control the army and even to command it to stop fighting? Certainly Germany had some influence in minor matters but not with the big task. Same could be said from the American independence war. The "indepence" army was hardly a French proxy army against England, even France helped it financially, with weapons and training. For France naturally it was a tool that could be used against England, but a tool to which they had rather little control.

Israel has been fighting against PLO, Hamas and Hezbollah for a long time. Has it managed to wipe them out? Sometimes minor victories but trend doesn’t favour Israel. These last three weeks changed the equation considerably. Suddenly IDF is a common mortal army. Lebanon can be the Stalingrad (turning point) for IDF.

If a couple of thousand Hizbollah guerrillas can do what they have done, it is most certain that the Syrian and Iranian army can do much more. If Iranians and Syrians can train Hizbollah so good certainly they have trained also their own forces. Even if Israel would win do you Sandroloewe really think that after that there would be an eternal peace in Middle East with secular democracy and “free trade”?

At 8/06/2006 05:00:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Nationalist Party said...

Some idiot here said:

"For this reason I think Israel will finish first the job in Lebanon and then will leave time for the world to see how Iran and Syria move behind HA. Then, after having reduced the danger of HA attacks and after having had all preparations Israel will hit Syria or Iran or both altogether."

Yeah, that will be in about 7 years from now, when there are no Saudi beasts, Bastard Abdullah II or traitor Mubarak in power, just the ultra anti-Jewish militant Moslems ruling those countries. It will be Israel begging for survival, begging America and the West not to sell the miserable Jews for a bucket full of oil.

At 8/06/2006 05:05:00 PM, Blogger True Facts said...

Courtesy of another blogger who pointed out to Landis few days ago, that all Landis has been doing in the last three weeks is copying articles from other internet site. Looks like Landis has dried from all ideas except from a constant desperate urge to defend a failed Syrian regime.

At Saturday, August 05, 2006, 10452 said...
Landis, for the past 3 weeks, all you've been doing is scouring the internet and your friends to find some sort of article to tell the world that the US should make a deal with Syria.

Desperately looking for any dead soul that tries to justify that the "US should answer the phone", is another example of your rise (or fall) into ....

It is again intellectually dishonest to not talk about the role of Syria in the current conflict in Lebanon. You love to say that Syria may have the solutions to the problems in Lebanon, but why do you always refrain mentioning that Syria is part of ALL the problems in Lebanon.

For God Sakes Josh, it is not because your wife is Syrian that you have to find every excuse to defend them. Hell, my wife is American, that doesn't mean I'll start playing apologist for all the wrong doing of Bush, whether it be in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, or what not.

At 8/06/2006 05:23:00 PM, Blogger True Facts said...

Josh, do you feel mentally impaired? If not, then you should refrain from removing comments that you don't like!!!
I'm asking this question because you removed my previous comment three times already!!!


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