Could Syria become a force for peace?
Recent policy changes in Syria offer hope. Damascus could be a wild card in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
After decades-long hostility, Israelis and Palestinians are tiptoeing their way, at the urging of the United States, through talks toward a peace that has been as elusive as a desert mirage.Skip to next paragraph
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The goal is to provide security for Israel and nationhood for the Palestinians, ordered by boundaries yet to be defined and agreed upon.
Israel cannot be confident of its security as long as Syria: (1) continues its support, including weaponry, for the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, (2) enables the flow of jihadists and explosives into Iraq, and (3) maintains its coziness with Tehran, which may be on the brink of achieving a nuclear bomb and is bellicose in its attitude toward Israel.
There also needs to be settlement of the Golan Heights problem. Seized by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Golan now contains some 20,000 Israeli settlers. Should it be returned to Syria, an unfriendly regime in Damascus would be able to pour murderous artillery and rocket firepower into the whole of northern Israel.
Very cryptic, very Syrian
But Syria’s recent behavior is very cryptic, or perhaps we should say, very Syrian, in keeping with the country’s long history of balancing diverse alliances.
While maintaining support for some of the worst actors in the Middle East, it has been curbing the influence of Muslim conservatives and lifestyles at home, and approving humanitarian and cultural initiatives, even from the US. Meanwhile the Western-educated wife of President Bashar al-Assad has been quietly supporting modernization, even whispering of ultimate democracy, albeit over the long haul.
In its foreign policy, Syria has so far resisted the attempts of the Obama administration to “engage” in any robust manner, as part of the American president’s overture to the Arab world. Mr. Obama has conceded that aspects of Syria’s behavior remain troubling, but argues that Syria could yet be constructive and helpful in a number of ways to US policy in the Middle East.