Assad's double gameDoes Bashar Assad want to warm his relations with the West or not? It appears that he wants to have it both ways, as the IDF has long warned.
That's the upshot of this report (both the article and the video are in Hebrew), which appeared on Israel's Channel 2 television on Sunday night (Hat Tip: Elder of Ziyon). The Channel 2 report was based on a report received by 'very senior officials' in the Israeli government (we'll talk about who got the report and where they got it) of a meeting that took place several months ago between US Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Assad in Damascus.
Mitchell told Assad that the United States has evidence that Syria has been providing weapons to Hezbullah. Assad denied it, claiming that the Americans' evidence was misleading. Mitchell accused Assad of transferring weapons to Lebanon in convoys, and Assad claimed it was a lie.
So Mitchell pulled out satellite photos of the weapons being transported to Lebanon (if you watch the video you can see them even if you don't understand the Hebrew), and Assad said that the trucks in the photos were on the Syrian side of the border, and besides, the Americans have no way of knowing what was in them. Mitchell claimed that the US has intelligence data indicating that what was in them was weapons, and Assad responded, "and if it was?"
A senior American told a senior Israeli in a private conversation, "Assad changes his position all the time and is a liar. He's not like his father. We cannot reach an agreement with him no matter what channel is opened." According to the report, the Israelis have not yet decided what to do but the weapons keep making their way to Lebanon.
You will recall that Shimon Peres disclosed those weapons shipments in May, and in June I reported that a NATO submarine had taken pictures of weapons being moved to Lebanon off the port of Tartus, possibly with Russian help.
My take: I disagree with the conclusion. The senior Israeli is either Netanyahu himself or Barak - more likely Netanyahu. The story was repeated by Mitchell and was probably discussed with Obama himself at the White House last week. From time to time, the possibility of trying to do a deal with Syria first has been raised, since at least in Syria we know with whom we are dealing and he is able to deliver the goods (unlike in the 'Palestinian Authority,' where Abu Mazen represents no one but himself and has no legitimacy). This story was planted by the Israeli government with Obama's permission to take the Syrian diplomatic initiative off the table. You will notice that Obama has not pushed the confirmation of an ambassador to Syria either since the Hezbullah weapons story was exposed.
It's also a warning to Syria - and to Hezbullah - that Israel knows what weapons they have and where they are. It fits right in with the IDF's disclosure last week of Hezbullah weapons caches among civilian homes in southern Lebanon. Israel is trying to scare Hezbullah off going to war. Israel believes it could win a war with Hezbullah (I believe it too), but that the costs in terms of casualties and disruptions to daily life here would be enormous. So it's trying to convince both Hezbullah and Syria that they have no chance of winning.