US-Iran dynamic: Why US effort to leverage Syria is flagging
In a bid to strengthen Washington's hand in the US-Iran dynamic, President Obama has sought to woo Syria. But as those efforts stall, Syria is drawing closer to Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
More than a year after the US launched a cautious effort to reengage with Syria, wooing it away from Iran and the Iranian-backed Shiite organization Hezbollah, the process appears to have reached an impasse.Skip to next paragraph
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Far from loosening its ties to Hezbollah, which the US classifies as a terrorist organization, Syria seems to be drawing ever closer to the powerful group in military cooperation. A year ago, it was reported that Hezbollah militants were receiving training in Syria on SA-8 “Gecko” vehicle-mounted antiaircraft missile systems, and that Syrian-manufactured M600 artillery rockets with a range of 155 miles had been transferred to the Lebanese group.
In April, Israeli and US reports surfaced that Syria had transferred Scud ballistic missiles to Hezbollah’s control. On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had delivered to Syria a new sophisticated radar system that could give advance warning of an impending Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities or Hezbollah.
“This is the first time a [US-classified] state sponsor [of terrorism] has ever been essentially busted getting [Scud] ballistic missiles close to a terrorist organization,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “In a post 9/11 world, this is not what we expected after 14 or so senior [diplomatic] visits to Damascus in the last year.”
What's to blame?
Although Obama seems committed to engaging Syria, the administration has been frustrated by what it considers the lack of positive response from Damascus. In particular, the US seems unable to persuade Syria to drop its support for militant anti-Israel groups such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian movement Hamas, also considered a terrorist group by the US and Europe.
A number of factors are to blame for the stalled renewal of ties, analysts say:
- The Obama administration’s attention has been diverted from the Middle East by more pressing matters such as the domestic economy and Afghanistan;
- The right-wing government in Israel has shown little enthusiasm for resuming peace talks with Syria;
- Damascus has tightened its relationship with Hezbollah, to the consternation of the US and Israel;
- Turkey’s recent animosity toward Israel has shifted regional power dynamics, potentially in Syria’s favor.
“Basically, it’s not going well at all,” says Mr. Tabler. “And the lack of results are raising a lot of questions, not just among Republicans.”