Monday, April 26, 2010

Foreign Policy reports:
As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, "that's the million-dollar question," the official said. The Obama administration genuinely does not understand Syrian intentions and there are three basic theories within the administration as to why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would continue to escalate arms shipments to Hezbollah despite U.S. warnings.

According to one school of thought, this is Assad's way of playing hardball with the Israelis in advance of Israeli-Syrian negotiations. No one wants to negotiate from a weak position, so he is amassing chits that he can bargain away later.

An opposing theory is that Assad has no interest in engaging with the Americans or negotiating with Israel at all. This line of thinking concludes that he is simply paving the way for eventual conflict with Israel.

The third, more nuanced analysis portrays Assad as a man in a bind. He has himself so tied up with Iran and Hezbollah that perhaps he can't disengage as easily as those in the West think he can. Also, Assad has always been a gambler and may have simply become entangled in his own web of deals with so many competing interests.

In a column last spring, Brett Stephens over at Commentary helpfully recalls the last attempt at reaching out to Syria:
With President Bill Clinton looking on, Shara responded to Barak’s politesse with a lengthy broadside against Israelis...

The Syrians could not have been unaware of the effect that its statements and behavior had on Israeli public opinion, and how that in turn would constrain Barak’s room for political maneuver. Indeed, just weeks after the Shepherdstown failure, Shara delivered a speech to the Arab Writers Union in which he explained that Syria’s interest in a negotiated settlement with Israel had nothing to do with actually coming to terms with Israel’s right to exist, but rather that the recovery of the Golan Heights was merely a stage on the road to the destruction of Israel. Assad’s government “believes that regaining the whole of Palestine is a long-term strategic goal that could not be implemented in one phase,” said Shara. “[Our] doctrine draws a distinction between the different phases of the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.”
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