Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Will the Real Basher al-Assad, Please Stand Up

Over the past 24 hours, the US has issued goals as prerequisites for upcoming peace negotiations. These “benchmarks” are actually obtainable; Palestine has been asked to step up security against terror, and Israel has been asked to ease travel restrictions. Condoleezza Rice will visit the region in May to reinforce these goals.

At the same time, Syria has put in their two cents worth, indicating their commitment to returning the Golan Heights to Syrian hands. Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal has gone so far as to threaten conventional warfare or even a terror campaign in order to regain the scenic and extremely strategic ex-Syrian territory.

Many have told me I’m an optimist or more, but I believe that peace is possible between Palestine and Israel today. Some of the biggest barriers to peace come down recently; the Palestinians and Israelis have distinct, autonomous economies, Hamas’ inability to provide a better life for the Palestinian people has reinforced the idea that the proper course lies in negotiation, and Israel’s failure in South Lebanon has the same result.

As such, I’m hopeful that the most recent peace negotiations will prove fruitful. However, for that to occur, both parties will have to think out of the box, and analyze what they really want and need from each other. Only by exploring new ideas and finding a very delicate balance between both sides, will both sides come to an agreement that can satisfy both the Israelis and the Palestinians. But what room does that leave for Syria?

The Golan Heights provide a natural level of security from Israel’s neighbors to the north. Holding the Heights allows Israel to monitor the actions of Syria, Iran and Iraq, and to protect itself without allocating as many troops to the region. Without the Heights, Israel’s northern border is exposed to the largest threats in the region, and a massive troop deployment in the north becomes necessary.

For this reason, Syria’s participation in the peace negotiations, and their insistence on the return of the Golan Heights, will play a crucial role in the success of any new peace initiatives.

Which leads us to a question that I’ve asked before, in recent and much earlier posts: who is the real Basher al-Assad? Is he the Western-educated pragmatic leader looking for reforms for Syria and restoration to its role as a trading hub for the region, or is he a brutal dictator like his father, willing to sacrifice the lives of his citizens for his own glory?

Al-Assad’s recent negotiations with Nancy Pelosi and his role in the return of the British sailors supports the first assertion. His supposed role in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his alliance with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paint a different picture.

Will the real Basher al-Assad please stand up? The true nature of Basher al-Assad will have a great deal of influence on the success or failure of this latest round of peace negotiations.

Posted by Scottage at 1:33 AM / | |