Monday, August 21, 2006

"SYRIA VERSUS IRAN," by Alon Ben-Meir

Alon Ben-Meir
view author's other articles
August 21, 2006
American Chronical

The Bush administration’s strategy of treating Syria and Iran as if they are evil twins is fundamentally flawed. Although Damascus and Tehran have many common interests in addition to their grievances against the United States, they differ dramatically in their assessment of their regional roles and strategic objectives. To foster a more peaceful Middle East, Washington must take these into account and pursue a different strategy, one that seeks to further separate Syria’s interests from those of Iran.

Syria’s and Iran’s long-term alliance is based more on circumstance than common strategic interests. Although both fear the U.S. policy of regime change, Washington’s hostility provides a greater incentive for them to cooperate. While Syria has embraced Iran to avoid isolation, Iran has used Syria as an “assistant” in building Hezbollah into a tool to promote the Islamic revolution. Their common interest in Lebanon has also led Iran to embrace Syria’s Alawites ruling elite, viewed disfavorably by the Sunnis. In addition, both nations, which previously considered Saddam Hussein as a threat, are now concerned that the turmoil in Iraq could spill across their borders. Finally, whereas Israel is seen as a common enemy, both Tehran and Damascus boast few allies inside and outside the region, making each other’s support critical.

Even a cursory look at what both nations share suggests that their enduring alliance has little to do with strategic objectives. Iran, which espouses revolutionary Islam, finds itself, as a Shiite country, frequently at odds with the Arab world, and in fact criticizes Arab leaders for turning away from Islam. In addition, Iran's nuclear ambitions arise not only from the desire to neutralize Israel's presumed nuclear power, but because it wants to establish regional hegemony, including over Syria. With the rise of Hamas to power, made possible in no small measure through Iran’s direct support, Tehran is determined to take over the Palestinian agenda from the Arab states. And, with the election of the Shiites in Iraq, Iran sees an historic opportunity to consolidate the Shiite crescent, extending it, under its own leadership, from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon, thereby fulfilling an historic quest to dominate the region. Finally, Iran’s interest in Western financial incentives has dramatically diminished due to the rise in the price of oil, which has nearly quadrupled Iran’s earnings in the past few years allowing Tehran to amass close to $100 billion in foreign currency reserves.

In contrast, Syria, in its role of secular Arab nationalist state, has an entirely different agenda. This agenda is based on four main principles or goals. The first is for the United States to abandon its desire to change the regime in Damascus. The second is to ensure that the Golan must be returned to Syrian sovereignty in exchange for peace with Israel. The third is that the United States and Israel must recognize that Syria has a special relation with Lebanon. The fourth is to normalize relations with the United States because this would bring great benefits to Syria, such as the possibility of critically needed economic development.

Certainly the United States has many grievances against Syria, including that it offers refuge to several extreme terrorist groups, mostly Palestinians, sworn to undermine U.S. and Israeli regional interests. Among the other sticking points are Syria’s alleged support of the insurgency in Iraq, which contributes to the instability and bloodshed there, its being behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and its colluding with Iran to provide Hezbollah with arms to stir up trouble for Israel, all of which led to the recent war in Lebanon. These are obviously serious charges, and Damascus needs to address them in one form or another, but they pale compared to the mischievous and dangerous conduct of Iran toward the West and Israel in particular, which, if unchecked, could precipitate a major regional war involving weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing will more undermine Iran’s strategic interests and bring Tehran down to size than breaking the so-called Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. Although separating Iran and Syria’s tactical interests is itself important, engaging Syria now could yield many other benefits. These include changing the dynamic of the Arab-Israeli peace process, disarming Hezbollah, stabilizing Lebanon, strengthening the Sunni camp against the growing power of the Shiites, diminishing Iran’s influence in the Mediterranean, weakening Hamas’ resolve and slowing the rising tide of Islamism everywhere. A change in American policy toward Syria is especially vital at this point because just about every initiative of the Bush administration seems to have backfired, creating an unprecedented Arab and Muslim backlash. Promoting democratic reform in the Middle East has failed, Iraq has plunged into civil war, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has worsened, the war in Lebanon has left half the country in ruins, and the anger and hatred of Arabs and Muslims toward the United States has reached new heights.

The future danger to the region will come from Iran, not Syria. Yes, Syria may have played a dangerous game by supporting Hezbollah’s reckless provocation of Israel. No one is saying that Syria is entitled to a special treatment. Rather, the suggestion is that the growing regional danger demands urgently a new strategy toward Syria that addresses Damascus’s special national requirements and in so doing distancing the Assad government from that of Iran with its own very different agenda. Such a strategy will call Syria to task while offering Damascus clear incentives to separate from Iran. Bullying Damascus will not lead to submission: it will simply force Syria to seek ever-closer relations with Iran and that’s where the greater danger lies.


At 8/21/2006 09:03:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

Well said ,Unfortionatly i do not think the American gov is smart enough to adapt and change even if that is in their interest.

At 8/21/2006 11:58:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

President Bush appeared in his press conference jocular and jocund,this is very dangerous man he must be up to something.

At 8/22/2006 03:57:00 AM, Blogger Joe M said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/22/2006 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Ameen Always said...

The Bush Administration made two giant mistakes when it liberated Iraq:

1- they did not have adequate troops to establish peace in Iraq.

2- They did not get rid of the Assad regime soon after getting rid of Sadam's.

The article that Prof. Joshua stated above, aside from Joshua's main objective which is to save the Syrian regime and which he thinks he is accomplishing by citing such articles every few days, proves beyond any doubt that the Assad regime is dangerous to peace in the region, and that this regime is only interested in its survival and will do every evil thing to accomplish that survival.

The Assad regime is in power because the Golan issue is not resolved yet, and it suppresses the freedom and the dignity of the Syrian people using the rhetorics of being in a state of war with Israel.

Can this regime survive without the state of this Virtual war that does not even exist between Syria andd Israel?

I mean it again: The Bush's team miscalculated enormously. The Syrian people would have applauded him had he liberated Syria soon after Iraq, and this whole theatre of killings in Iraq would have been avoided.

At 8/22/2006 09:30:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

"Joe m",

the same happened to me some days ago. There are some bugs in the blogging software, that's all. The best is to save your comments locally and to repost them (if they are not in any way offensive, of course).

Some more comments on the Malbrunot article

The suspect was allegedly using one of "un groupe de téléphones portables, qui n'a été utilisé qu'avant et juste après le crime".

Mehlis refers to them in §144 of his first report:

"Investigations by both the ISF and Military Intelligence have led to six pre-paid calling cards, which telephone records demonstrate were instrumental in the planning of the assassination."

§145 continues:

"Further investigation has revealed that these six lines - along with two others - were put into circulation on the 4 January 2005, after calling number 1456 activated them. ... Since they were first purchased in early January 2005, until the time of the explosion, the lines only had calls with each other."

(my emphasis)

This is in contradiction to Malbrunot's allegation that one of the phones was used to call a friend:

"Mais l'un d'eux a commis une erreur, en appelant un de ses amis, qui ne faisait pas partie du réseau de complices."

However, Mehlis mentions in §146 that in all 10 prepaid cards were bought, but he doesn't say if they were all activated.

The official quoted by Malbrunot also speaks of a maximum of ten owners/users ("leur propriétaires, une dizaine au maximum"; strange formulation, btw, "au maximum": either you know the number of lines or you don't).

In any case it seems clear (if the information is correct, of course) that the additional line was identified some time after the first and perhaps even after the second Mehlis report.

Which leads to another very interesting observation. Malbrunot writes:

"Grâce aux relevés téléphoniques, les policiers ont enregistré le numéro de cet ami, puis l'ont interrogé. Celui-ci leur a livré le nom de son correspondant."

Isn't this a bit surprising? This interrogation must have taken place months after the call was made. Imagine somebody asking you, "who called you on January 14 2005 at 16:25 hours?". Unless you have a memory like Garry Kasparov you will probably be unable to answer the question. And yet, the alleged testimony of the "friend" is the only evidence they have against the suspect.

Secondly, how do they know that the friend "ne faisait pas partie du réseau de complices"?

There is yet another strange assertion in Malbrunot's article:

"Il ne s'agit pour l'heure que d'une piste. Ni les FSI ni vraisemblablement Serge Brammertz ne disposent de preuve pour étayer leurs soupçons."

If the information given in the article is correct, why does it not constitute a "preuve"? To identify the owner of a prepaid calling card which was "instrumental in the planning of the assassination" would certainly have to be considered a major breakthrough.

At 8/22/2006 09:48:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

As'ad AbuKhalil stating the obvious:

"So Israel, which has the most powerful army in the region, wants Hizbullah to disarm. Israel wants its enemy to be disarmed so that in the next battle, the Israeli military can face a defenseless and helpless civilian population in South Lebanon. The UN, EU, US, and the rest support Israel's request; that Israel should be allowed to disarm its enemies so that the Israeli military can perform courageously against unarmed Arab civilians. So the Israeli military can do really well in battle provided the enemy is disarmed."
New standards of battle

BTW, I wasn't aware that already before the war Nasrallah had presented a detailed and realistic plan for the integration of the resistance into the Lebanese army:

"Another entirely possible scenario is that Hizballah, which the Beirut government relies on for a majority in parliament, will reach an agreement with the other factions in the framework of what they call the “national dialogue,” making its resistance fighters a kind of auxiliary or reserve force of the Lebanese Army. Before the war, Nasrallah presented a 220-page proposal outlining a similar vision for the “defense strategy” of the state."
Washington Institute

For all the obvious reasons mentioned above, this is the only reasonable scenario. Weapons aren't the problem, offensive operations are, so just put the weapons of the resistance under the authority of the state while preserving their defensive capabilities.

At 8/22/2006 11:10:00 AM, Blogger why-discuss said...


Feeling threatened by a Syria supported by ever powerful and defiant Iran, Israelis are devising a strategy to separate Syria from Iran by offering the Golan back to Syria, hoping this will rally Syria to the neutralized arab countries that have signed a peace treaty.
The debacle in Iraq and the emergence of an anti-Israeli government in Iraq would be too much for Israel to bear. They must neutralize Syria before it becomes an ally to a shia Iraq and Iran against Israel.. Time is playing against them.

At 8/22/2006 02:48:00 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Neither was I, and the conclusion the slightly over-the-top WI writer reaches isn't operational, which comes slightly before "legit" or "state" and "subvert" and so on. What works always beats what doesn't, and what's beaten isn't "legit" or ... even able to ask for a casualty recount.

Before the war, Nasrallah presented a 220-page proposal outlining a similar vision for the “defense strategy” of the state. If he succeeds in forcing his coalition partner-rivals to accept this logic, then Hizballah units will become “legitimate,” and part of the “state,” and not what they are in reality—a body that subverts the state’s authority and undermines it.

The assertion of the existance of the 220p document is interesting. I'd love to see it substantiated, and the text available for review, unfortunately, in translation to a European language.

But that wasn't why I clicked on "comments", it was the vacuuity of the Alon Ben-Meir article. Beeck! Not what I expected from SC.

At 8/22/2006 04:45:00 PM, Blogger t_desco said...

Germans Eye Network Behind Train Bomb Suspects

FRANKFURT, Aug. 22 — A top German security official said today that two Lebanese men suspected of planting bombs on two German trains might have had support from a network of Islamic extremists here and in Lebanon.

“There might be a structure of helpers and supporters in Lebanon and Germany,” August Hanning, the secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, said in an interview. “We are still investigating this.” ...

Today, German authorities identified a 20-year-old Lebanese man, Jihad Hamad, as the second suspect in the failed plot. But Mr. Hamad appears to have fled the country, Mr. Hanning said. ...

On Saturday, police arrested the other man, identified as Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib, in the northern city of Kiel. They credited a tip from Lebanon’s military intelligence agency, which intercepted a panicked phone call he made to his family there after video images of him were broadcast here. ...

The main suspects, Mr. Hanning said, grew up in Lebanon in what he described as an “extremist milieu.” Authorities believe Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib may have links to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group banned in Germany, though the group denies he is a member.

The Spiegel suggested that they may be members of al-Jama'a al-Salafiya instead (because Hizb ut-Tahrir does not have a record of involvement in terrorism).

Does such a group exist in Tripoli?

At 8/22/2006 05:55:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...


Asked at a White House news conference whether he was confident the council would move quickly on sanctions if Iran defied the decision of the international community, Bush said, "I certainly hope so.There must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the United Nations Security Council."

At 8/22/2006 11:00:00 PM, Blogger Metaz K. M. Aldendeshe said...

Here is a quiz for you, see if you really understand what is going on. If you answer correctly, then you are well informed, if your answer is wrong, get out and go join the boys and girls scout.

Q: Who founded the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq?

A- Ahmad Shalabi and his Iraq Congress

B- Bruce Jackson, Lockheed Martin vice president.

C- Neoconservatives William Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz.

At 8/22/2006 11:12:00 PM, Blogger Metaz K. M. Aldendeshe said...

The answear is -B-


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