Assad and the moving train
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Third, Assad will probably seek to extract political concessions which accord Syria greater importance in the area in general and in the Middle East negotiating equation in particular. In the inter-Arab sense this might mean more deference being accorded to Syria, including a demonstration of willingness on the part of Syria's other Arab neighbors, Jordan and Iraq, to take steps to thaw their currently cool relations with Syria. It might also entail larger financial subsidies from the oil-rich Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. Inasmuch as the Arab consensus is to endorse Lebanon's sovereign right to make the best deal it can with Israel, one might reasonably expect Arab forthcomingness in both the aforementioned areas.Skip to next paragraph
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In addition, Assad may want commitments from the US, which he and everyone else acknowledge occupies the key role with regard to achieving comprehensive peace in the area. He may want a more solid affirmation of US determination to get Israel off the Golan Heights in the framework of a peace settlement and better evidence of US capacity to ''deliver'' Israel in this regard. On the other hand, Assad may have lost faith in the credibility of the US word insofar as inducing Israeli performance is concerned and may have decided that therefore there is no hope for peace in our time. In this case, he will merely insist that the US accord more importance to Syria, not ignore it in the overall Middle East scheme of things, and recognize what he considers to be a legitimate Soviet role in the area.
Obviously, it will be difficult for Assad to obtain the political concessions he appears to be looking for. The stridency and bombast of his informational media and of his spokesmen and the general negativeness of Syrian policy have hardly ingratiated Syria either with Arab governments (except for Libya and South Yemen) or with the West. If Syria's objective by this conduct is to convince others of the rightness of its positions, it has certainly gone about it in the wrong way.
The prospects for a Syrian troop withdrawal from Lebanon, therefore, look slim on the surface. Yet we should not be without hope, for how long will the Syrians be prepared to buck the Arab consensus and be accused of perpetuating what would become substantial, permanent Israeli occupation of Lebanon? And how long is the Assad regime prepared to remain in a high-tension confronta-tional situation with Israel? Even if Israel withdraws its troops to the Awali River in southern Lebanon, the continued presence in Lebanon and along the Syrian border of some 20,000 Israeli troops - together with an increasing Israeli propensity to harass nonwithdrawing Syrian troops - poses Syria with the omnipresent and real threat of a full-scale war which Assad doesn't want. On the Golan Heights at least Syrian and Israeli military forces are separated by the UN peacekeeping forces.
At best Syria will take its time before withdrawing, continuing to denounce the Lebanese-Israeli agreement but eventually settling for security and political guarantees of a somewhat lesser magnitude than originally demanded, in return for withdrawal. At worst Syria will refuse to withdraw either because it cannot obtain the full price it wants or because it refuses ever to reconcile itself to a residual Israeli presence in Lebanon, in which case war with Israel becomes increasingly likely and the de facto partition of Lebanon becomes de jure.
How events will turn out, as the Arabs say, ''only God knows.'' If Lebanon allows Syria a security presence in the Bekaa, if the US is patient (and sees to it that Israel is also), and if the US is more responsive to Syrian political concerns - including demonstrating by action that Israel does not dictate US policy - there is a chance that Syria will withdraw from Lebanon. Secretary Shultz has made a commendable start in his relationship with Assad. Let us hope that the secretary can build on this positive first impression and add to it some substance.