Israel, Syria

Assad Chooses Iran Over Golan?

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has turned down an offer from Israeli President Shimon Peres, according to which Israel would return the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for a severing of ties between Syria and its allies in the Axis of Resistance (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.)

The story in JPost was based on an interview that Assad gave to the Lebanese newspaper Assafir. Here’s the relevant portion of the Arabic article:

وكشف الاسد عن ان الرئيس الروسي ديميتري ميدفيديف نقل خلال زيارته الاخيرة الى دمشق رسالة إسرائيلية من شيمون بيريز تتضمن عرضاً بالمقايضة بين الجولان وفك علاقة سوريا بإيران وحركات المقاومة، فكان جوابنا واضحاً وهو ان الواقع يثبت ان اسرائيل لا تعمل من أجل السلام، وبالتالي فإن باقي الكلام لا يفيد.
وشدد الاسد على ان للقيادة السورية منهجية في التعامل مع الملفات المطروحة من لبنان الى ايران مروراً بفلسطين والعراق، «فنحن لا نربط الملفات بدول بل بقضايا، وقد نصحنا من يأتي لمحاورتنا بأن لا يضيّع وقته في السعي الى الربط بين هذه الملفات». وأضاف: نحن نتكلم حول كل ملف على حدة، انطلاقاً من اننا نعرف ماذا نريد والقرار في نهاية المطاف هو قرارنا.
وأكد الاسد ان سوريا دخلت في المفاوضات غير المباشرة مع اسرائيل عام 2008 من دون أوهام، «ولن يكون هناك ما نخافه عندما تكون الثوابت واضحة ونهائية وعندما يكون القرار بعدم التنازل عن أي جزء منها مهما كان صغيراً هو قرار نهائي لا يخضع الى المساومة».
غصن الزيتون.. للدبكة
وأشار الى ان المقاومة هي من أجل السلام المشرّف وليس من أجل الحرب للحرب. وتابع: إذا لم تكن قوياً، لا أحد يحترمك. الاوراق التي تمتلكها هي التي تعبر عن قوتك وتجعل الآخرين يحسبون لك حساباً، ولو اننا لم نمتلك اوراقاً ما كانوا ليقتنعوا بدورنا. وحدها عناصر القوة توصلك الى السلام الفعلي. السلام ليس غصن زيتون نلوّح به.. غصن الزيتون ينفع للدبكة، ولكن ليس للتعامل مع الواقع ولصنع موازين القوى.
وشدد الرئيس السوري على انه يرفض ممارسة الضغوط على حركة حماس او غيرها من حركات المقاومة الفلسطينية كي تتخذ مواقف مخالفة لإرادتها: «نحن لا نقبل ان نفرض رأينا على أحد من الفلسطينيين. وهذا هو سبب خلافنا مع البعض. وبرأينا ان المطلوب ان يتحمل كل طرف مسؤولياته. موضوع المصالحة الفلسطينية عند مصر، أما هل نجحت أم لا فهذا موضوع آخر».

A couple of interesting points of note:

(1) Assad did not actually “turn down” the offer, according to the interview in Assafir. He said that Peres offered him the Golan in exchange for severing his ties to Iran and various resistance groups, and responded by saying that “our answer was very clear, which was that the current reality proves that Israel is not working for peace.”

That sounds like a dodge to me. On the one hand, Assad does not want to send the message that he’s even willing to consider throwing anyone under the bus, but he also does not want to give more ammunition to those (in Washington, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere) who believe that Syria is nothing but a vassal state of Iran.

(2) Peres denied that he had offered Assad the Golan, perhaps because Bibi recently announced that no such deal was up for consideration. So both sides (Assad and Peres) have to weigh their own desires and calculations against those of some hard-line allies.

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Discussion

23 thoughts on “Assad Chooses Iran Over Golan?

  1. It sounds like a smart dodge. Withdrawing from the Golan on condition that Syria cuts off ties with Iran and the Lebanese resistance leaves Syria exposed. What happens if Israel claims (or fabricates) it has proof Syria has been arming Hizballah, like they did with the Scud missile rumor? That turned out to be false according to the Americans, but the PR damage was done. Does Israel then re-occupy the Golan Heights? Or more?

    Assad knows he can’t make a deal without involving Lebanon. His fate is tied with that of Hizballah. To offer a deal on condition the two are separated, rather than a deal in which Lebanese claims are addressed (such as the Shebaa Farms, Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, maps of cluster bombs in the south, Israeli jet incursions over Lebanon, etc) would be impossible for Assad to accept.

    Israel needs, for economic purposes, to maintain the threat Hizballah possesses. They have billions of dollars invested in selling security. If they really wanted Hizballah weakened, they would address the last few minor concessions needed to empower the Lebanese people to legitimately demand Hizballah be disarmed or dissolved into the army, with no further need of a resistance. Any peace offer that doesn’t include that basic stipulation is more than likely a diplomatic ruse.

    Posted by Mehdi | May 18, 2010, 11:04 am
  2. There’s another Mehdi in this world??? Impostor!

    Posted by Mehdi | May 18, 2010, 11:27 am
  3. I don’t think anybody believes an arrangement on the Sheeba farms of R’ajer will mean the end of Hizbullah as a military force.

    Nasrallah has already indicated that in such a case, Hizbullah will mark half a douzen villages in northern Israel as Lebanese occupied land and that they will justify the ‘resistance’ continuation. So Israel has little reason to advance on that front (especially Sheeba) at this time.

    As for the peace offer, well in the ME any offer can be considered a bluff if you wish to, and with considerable merit. The only way to find out is to accept it and see what happens.

    But there is nothing more irrelevant around here than a peace offer, which has soured. “Gone with the wind”, is the appropriate expression I believe.

    G

    Posted by G | May 18, 2010, 11:42 am
  4. Meant Sheeba farms OR R’ajer, of course…

    Posted by G | May 18, 2010, 11:43 am
  5. Asad is trapped in the status quo and has no idea how to move out of it. War is too dangerous and the price of peace is too high. He couldn’t get Obama to drop the sanctions on Syria, so what chance does he have with future US presidents?

    As for Hezbollah and Hamas as proxies, that is not panning out either because Israel has been able to change the rules of the game in Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2009.

    Posted by AIG | May 18, 2010, 12:06 pm
  6. Mehdi I? Mehdi II? So, you’re ALREADY HERE? And there are TWO of you? How confusing…

    Posted by mj | May 18, 2010, 12:10 pm
  7. Ha! Sorry about the confusion. I should have noted the difference. The name must be too popular.

    With response to G – whether or not Hizballah accepts the concessions is a different matter. Right now, for better or worse, the majority of Lebanese people agree that these issues need to be addressed. If these issues were to be resolved, not even the most fervent supporters of Hizballah would be able to defend an attempt to pull back the goal posts. My point is that the only way Hizballah will ever disarm will be from internal pressure within their own community. You can’t ignore the legitimate gripes because you think they’ll look towards illegitimate ones.

    Once those issues are off the table, a real national dialogue about the weapons of the resistance can begin. And once that gains momentum, Assad will be more likely to engage in substantiative peace talks that include both the Golan Heights, and Lebanon. At this point, that is the low hanging fruit. Until that is satisfied (which would be easier for Israel to concede than the Golan Heights, quite frankly) no real overtures should be taken seriously.

    Posted by Mehdi2 | May 18, 2010, 12:29 pm
  8. On the other hand, maybe the last cold war before the curtain goes down (since the proliferation of mahdis and the crowning of faqihs to unusual positions of power definitely suggests that the end of the world is close) the last war, I said, will be cold, and its battles waged mainly in the front pages of newspapers and tv news shows. Now that not only the Israelis, but about everybody, is finally getting good at the game.

    Posted by mj | May 18, 2010, 12:37 pm
  9. QN,

    No matter how you slice it, the Israelis just proved that:

    1.) The Golan isn’t the priority.

    2.) Resistance is the priority.

    3.) Assad needs the Golan like a “hole in the head”.

    4.) The Golan can continue to produce fine wines at popular prices.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 18, 2010, 1:17 pm
  10. Amazing.

    Just like the SCUDs story turned out to be false (most probably) while no one suggested that “the damage” (or the distortion of facts) also needs to be undone, the Jerusalem Post misquotes President Assad and again, we can see from Akbar Palace the direction Israel’s friends in the US will spin this interview … the Golan is not Syria’s priority after all … it is resistance (or terror)

    And it makes perfect sense, because we all know that Syria loves to support terror.

    Posted by Alex | May 18, 2010, 2:36 pm
  11. Bashar said:
    إذا لم تكن قوياً، لا أحد يحترمك. الاوراق التي تمتلكها هي التي تعبر عن قوتك وتجعل الآخرين يحسبون لك حساباً، ولو اننا لم نمتلك اوراقاً ما كانوا ليقتنعوا بدورنا. وحدها عناصر القوة توصلك الى السلام الفعلي.

    The above statement shows very clearly that Bashar Assad confuses strength with inconvenience, vexation and annoyance. He mistakenly thinks that his policies of forging alliances with renegade groups are making Syria strong when at best these relationships are to be considered no more than irritants and annoyances. At best a gnat can be no more than an irritant.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | May 18, 2010, 2:45 pm
  12. Ghassan,

    Syria is also strong because Syria (the nation) is Iran’s closest friend and it is also Turkey’s closest friend.

    Israel is weaker today because Israel lost Iran in 1979 and lost Turkey in 2009

    It is not only “renegade groups” that give Syria strength.

    Keep in mind that he was speaking to a Lebanese newspaper and that the paper’s readers are mostly “pro-resistance”, so it is understandable that he would acknowledge the role “resistance” plays and how much Syria values that role.

    Posted by Alex | May 18, 2010, 3:02 pm
  13. Just like the SCUDs story turned out to be false…

    Alex,

    Didn’t you say the same thing about the “suspected” North Korean nuclear reactor?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 18, 2010, 3:17 pm
  14. Yes, Akbar, and I still say it … it is still “suspected” .. at the time I did not categorically reject the idea but I had many doubts.

    The SCUDS story though is most likely a fabrication … Hozbollah has enough smaller and more practical and more accurate missiles, they don’t need the SCUDS.

    Posted by Alex | May 18, 2010, 3:25 pm
  15. Mehdi2;

    Sorry, but the process you describe taking place in Lebanon sounds more like wishful thinking than anything else.
    From the Israeli perspective, small and worthless as the Sheeba farms are, they are important as a symbol and giving them away for the hope of a subsequent internal change in Lebanon (assuming Israel cares for that) looks foolish in danger of giving the ‘resistance’ a victory for free.

    As for the Golan, in my (humble) opinion it makes much more sense for Israel to advance on the Palestinian track and try to reach a settlement there while leaving Assad to resist himself in Damascus.
    Surely the Palestinians are not committed to getting the Golan for Assad?
    Of course, I am one of those who think the beautiful, fertile Golan is worth much more than the (no offence) Palestinian filled west bank. But that’s just me.

    G

    Posted by G | May 18, 2010, 3:50 pm
  16. Qifa: So both sides (Assad and Peres) have to weigh their own desires and calculations against those of some hard-line allies.

    Yeah, that is a great way to put it. Just making a public statement is a big deal.

    I don’t know how many followers of this blog can go to the Golan now, but I have, and the oil press industry has an amazing lobby in Israeli politics. They make the claim that old Jewish monotheists were working the olive presses since as along as there have been Jews in the region. Thus, making it part of “the Zionist dream.” The Golan.

    Interesting.

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | May 18, 2010, 4:57 pm
  17. Note that Ha’aretz has a totally different interpretation of the same quote: “Israel offered to engage in direct peace talks with Syria, provided Damascus cut ties with Iran and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah” — JPost seems more accurate, but Safir doesn’t give much detail. As I read it, Peres could just have been adding Iran to the present offer (which Syria already deems unacceptable, b/c of borders and stuff).

    Either way, Israel & the U.S. should really drop these delusions about “flipping” Syria. Iran is its only solid ally and a major factor in its deterrence (via Hezbollah & Lebanon). Look what Assad said in the fourth para above! (Short version: resistance is not war-for-its-own-sake, but a way to strengthen your hand in diplomacy.)

    I think that’s probably a pretty accurate picture of his thinking, and if they were to sever ties with Iran it would weaken their hand a LOT. It’s just a non-starter, so don’t even waste your time on it.

    Posted by aron | May 18, 2010, 5:53 pm
  18. G, what an offensive bastard you are. “I am one of those who think the beautiful, fertile Golan is worth much more than the (no offence) Palestinian filled west bank. But that’s just me.”

    Sadly, you jerk, it’s not just you- it’s the whole Israeli enterprise that perceives Palestinians in this degraded and racist way.
    You cry fowl when someone dares to utter something negative about Israel and its Jewish population, but when it comes to Palestinians, it’s all fair game.

    I tell you what is worth more than the whole of Israeli filled Israel – my ass.

    Seriously, go comment on some Lieberman-run blog.

    Posted by SydneySider | May 19, 2010, 5:36 am
  19. G,

    How dare you belittle the brave Palestinians that the Arab and Muslim world worked so hard to liberate?

    The “Israeli filled Israel” is on its last legs (as well as all the Lieberman-run blogs).

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 19, 2010, 6:38 am
  20. The was no racism in my post, only in your mind.
    What single word in my post hinted at anything demeaning about the Palestinians?
    Simple logic dictates that the hostile palestinian population in the west bank, fighting tooth and nail for liberation is less attractive to Israel than the Druze in the Golan.

    As for your ass being worth more than israel, well perhaps its worth its weight in gold, I wouldn’t know.

    Perhaps you could respond as to how Syria would respond to a palestinian settelment while leaving them without the Golan?

    Posted by G | May 19, 2010, 7:05 am
  21. G,

    After reading this website (I’ve visited there), I have to agree with you. BTW, Shefa-Amr is in the Galilee.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shefa-'Amr

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 19, 2010, 9:37 am
  22. In an interview with PressTV, Walid Bek reveals his secret plot to infiltrate the neocons:

    “I think sometimes it’s good to meet the enemies so you know how they think, what their plans are and how they create major crisis for their country.”

    Jumby added: Chalabi? Who’s that? Just another reckless amateur.

    Posted by david | May 21, 2010, 2:15 pm

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