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Sunday, July 05, 2009

US and Saudis push Syria on Lebanese border

In a sudden turnaround, the United States and Saudi Arabia are pushing Syria to demarcate its borders with Lebanon. The reason is to remove Israel's rationale for not turning the Shaba Farms (Mount Dov) over to Lebanon without there first being a treaty between Israel and Syria. For those who have forgotten, Israel liberated Mount Dov from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Lebanon claims that Mount Dov belongs to it, and Hezbullah uses Israel's 'occupation' of Mount Dov as proof that Israel is 'occupying' 'Lebanese territory' thereby justifying its existence in Lebanon. The US claims that if Syria demarcates its border with Lebanon, and puts Mount Dov on the Lebanese side of the border, it will take away Hezbullah's raison d'etre (see map below).
These moves come amid warming relations between Damascus and Washington. This past weekend Syrian President Bashar Assad issued an unofficial invitation to his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama to visit the Syrian capital.

Marking the Syrian-Lebanese border would neutralize the Israeli claim that Shaba Farms was previously Syrian territory, and that a withdrawal must be carried out only in the course of negotiations with Damascus. The United Nations also defines the area as Syrian territory, and did not call on Israel to pull back from it during its 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. [The dark blue line on the map shows the internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon, to which Israel withdrew in 2000. CiJ].

Withdrawing from the disputed area would also obviate one of Hezbollah's primary pretexts for continuing to maintain weapons to fight Israel's presence on what it considers Lebanese soil. In marking its border, however, Syria would be sending a strong message to Hezbollah that the militant group's accumulation of arms is no longer part of the country's military strategy.

Such a move would likely bolster the position of Saad Hariri, Lebanon's pro-West prime minister-delegate, as well. Hariri has stated that the Lebanese parliament must tackle the issue of disarming Hezbollah. He has also conditioned forming a government on the Hezbollah-led opposition holding no more than a third of the seats in parliament, thus preventing it from being able to veto key government decisions. The Lebanese Constitution stipulates that certain important decisions must be made with the ascent of two-thirds of parliamentarians.

Lebanese sources said recently that they expected Syria to agree to mark the border in an effort to win favor with both the United States and Egypt.
This is mostly wishful thinking. First, the US and Saudi Arabia are going to have to offer Syria a lot more than 'warming relations' for it to give up a hard asset - land. 'Engagement' is one thing and giving up real assets (even if the asset is only a claim) is something else. Mount Dov is a very strategic point that is used for military purposes by Israel. Why would the Syrians want to let Lebanon have it? What is Lebanon giving them in return?

Second, it's questionable whether Syria has really abandoned Hezbullah. Sure, Assad is happy to invite Obama to Damascus and to have an American ambassador in the city. He got the same thing from Bill Clinton. But he also endorsed the Iranian election results and he has given no indication of abandoning Hezbullah. Why choose sides when Obama is allowing him to 'engage' on his own terms?

Third, even if Israel were to hand Mount Dov over to Lebanon tomorrow, Hezbullah would continue to exist and would continue to charge Israel with 'occupying Lebanese territory.' They have already invented the seven villages canard.

Israel should not turn over anything to Syria or Lebanon. We'd be forfeiting a vital strategic asset and getting nothing in return.


At 4:30 PM, Blogger What is "Occupation" said...

The arab world sees and understands the current reality...

America is not with Israel....

At 8:17 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Given what Avigdor Lieberman said last week about unilateral concessions, its always tempting to make them. But Israel's enemies will never run out of places Israel has to withdraw from. Israel should definitely not give up Mt. Dov even if it means being loved by the world.


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