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Thursday, August 17, 2006

A cease fire hudna ignoring Syria

Writing in today's Washington Post, former director for policy planning in the State Department and former special Middle East coordinator Dennis Ross, continues a trend by former State Department personnel of exaggerating Syria's importance in the Middle East and urging Israel and the United States to placate it.
Surely, if the international force is seen as credible and determined, it can convince Assad that Hezbollah is going to be contained and that its value to Syria could diminish. But Assad must also see that Syria will pay an unmistakable price if it tries to block implementation of Resolution 1701. That price could be a joint French-E.U. and American effort to isolate Syria economically if it is unwilling to end its material support for Hezbollah.

The Europeans currently provide a critical economic lifeline to the Syrians. French President Jacques Chirac could credibly warn Assad that if arms flow to Hezbollah and threaten French troops, then Europe will cut all economic ties to Syria. Conversely, if Syria ended its military relationship with Hezbollah and accepted the Lebanese government's effort to reestablish its authority, the European Union could promise new and meaningful economic benefits to Damascus.

In such a scenario, the European Union would be Act 1. Act 2 would involve the United States. The Bush administration, which has expressed an interest in weaning Syria away from Iran, won't be able to do that without talking to the Syrians. And it won't be able to do it by continuing to make threats that have no consequences. It will not be enough to continue saying, "The Syrians know what they need to do."

The United States must reinforce a tough E.U. message with one of its own to Assad, namely this: We are prepared to implement a range of sanctions, including the Syrian Accountability Act and executive orders that would make it difficult for companies and financial institutions that do business in Syria to conduct business in the United States.

This would have the potential of choking off European, Asian (and even Arab) countries and businesses from having any commercial or investment relations with Syria -- and it could be devastating for an already weak economy. That's a lever that should be deployed to build the Syrian interest in cooperating.

No doubt the Syrians would want to know what they'd get from such cooperation. They should be told that the page can be turned in our relations, that economic benefits could be forthcoming, and that even a resumption of the peace process between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights could be in the offing. None of these things can be available if Syria is not prepared to cut off Hezbollah and Hamas. Why, after all, would we invest anything in a peace process when those two organizations retain the means -- with Syrian support -- of subverting that process at a time of their choosing?

History is littered with well-intentioned efforts to transform Lebanon. If the current effort is to be different, we will need a credible international force shaped by real, not symbolic, missions and a new approach to Syria -- one that gives the Syrians a reason to calculate their interests differently.
Like most of the State Department alumni these days, Ross is living in a dream world when it comes to the Middle East in general and to Syria in particular. In that dream world, Syria's importance is exaggerated as if it were still a Soviet client state, and Israel still has to beg the Arab world to 'accept' its 'right to exist.'

Syria is nothing but a client state of Iran and a transit point for weapons bound for Hezbullah. It has no economy, no army to speak of, and nothing to offer the world other than sanctuary for terrorists like Khaled Meshaal. Should France threaten to cut off Syria's EU markets if it gets in the way of the hudna? Absolutely. Do I expect them to make the threat or follow through on it in the unlikely event that they make it? No.

Should the United States squeeze Syria's banking by putting in Iran-style sanctions if they don't behave? No question about it. But then why start down the road again of trying to give them the Golan? Ehud Barak tried doing that, and they turned it down because Barak wanted to keep a strip of land a few meters wide (literally) on the eastern bank of the Sea of Galilee! And they still won't accept Israel's 'right to exist.' So why bother with them?

The real question is not how to get Syria to cooperate, but how the French are going to prevent them from re-arming Hezbullah, and why Israel didn't attack them when the United States cleared Israel to do so. That is a subject for a commission of inquiry.


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