Thursday, November 20, 2008

Syria or Iran first?

Indeed, the Syrian elite itself may be split over Western overtures and their Iranian relationship. Whether or not it is as quixotic a dalliance as the Times suggests, it is correct that Iran is the key, and a resolution of that standoff will force Syria to move so as not to risk further isolation. -Boz
I think the logic is backward here. After eight years of a Bush administration which strengthened Iran's standing in the region through a succession of blunders, Iran's position is strong enough to be able to extract significant concessions on any sort of deal it would agree to sign with western powers. I do not think that a new President in the White House will magically shift the balance of power in the Middle East; we saw how that worked at Vienna in 1961 in regard to Russia. Iran has few incentives to give up on its nuclear program now; it knows that if it manages to build nuclear bombs, the balance of power will be further shifted toward them. I think the smart thing to do is weaken Iran's position through diplomacy and then reach a deal, rather than attempt to do so when Iran's position is strong.

Syria has shown its willingness to negotiate with Israel and to work with the west even during the Bush years. The leaders of the country are largely secular and come from a small religious minority of the population (Alawite) who have had problems of their own with fundamentalists. Therefore, they do not have any ideological objections to cooperation against terrorism. While allegedly "allied" with Iran, Syria is definitely the minor partner in the operation. The odds are that they dislike Iran's new influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, since Syria considers Lebanon its own backyard. Again, Syria has no ideological commitment to its alliance with Iran, it is simply a marriage of convenience by two countries hated by the west. I think Syria would be much easier to bring into a peace deal with the west and Israel, by giving them back Golan Heights, normalizing relations and maybe recognizing its "special relation" with Lebanon*.

Making a deal with Syria would improve chances of reaching a satisfying peace deal with Iran, especially if other policies intended to isolate Iran diplomatically such as improved relations with Russia are pursued.

*The caveat is that this strategy depends on a Livni win in February.

Via: Arthur Goldhammer

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