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Real Negotiations With Syria? Don't Even Think About It!

October 5, 2006 By:
Barry Rubin
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Why is the West so eager to appease the state sponsor of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda?

Five years after Al Qaeda carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, amid all the mourning and commemoration for that anniversary, the United States, Europe and even some misguided Israeli leaders are rushing to negotiate (and aching to make concessions to) the country that is the closest thing to a sponsor of Al Qaeda today.

I refer to Syria. The facts are simple and public: The main battle being waged by bin Laden's men today is the Iraqi insurgency, whose leaders openly acknowledge their adherence to the terror leader and his organization. Syria is the main sponsor of the Iraqi insurgency, which means it is meeting with, paying off, training, arming, giving safe transit to and probably making plans with Al Qaeda.

And if there is a war on terror today, it is Syria that sponsors not only Hamas and Hezbollah, but also other groups in Lebanon, like the Palestinian Asbat al-Ansar and the Sunni Lebanese group Islamic Action Front.

Why is all this forgotten when it comes to assessing the role of Syria in the region?

In the next few days, the United Nations-sponsored commission on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 is going to issue a report blaming Syria for the killing.

As if this were not enough, one increasingly hears proposals to sell out Lebanon to the Syrians in exchange for behaving better, or even giving the Golan Heights and Lebanon back to Damascus if Syria promises to restrain Hezbollah -- or something like that.

It seems very difficult for people to understand the rather obvious principle that dictators and extremists don't always tell the truth. The only thing keeping the West from giving hundreds of millions of dollars to a Hamas-led Palestinian government is that group's being either dumb enough or principled enough not to pretend that it recognizes Israel.

So Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas runs around, most recently to the United Nations, claiming that his supposed national-unity government (which doesn't seem to exist in reality) will ensure the moderation of Hamas. This is clearly a fig-leaf plan, whose sole purpose is to get Western aid money.

This money would be used, for example, to pay the salaries of teachers taking orders from a Hamas education ministry to instruct children that Jews are subhuman, and that the West consists of Crusaders trying to destroy Islam.

Yet Hamas keeps spoiling things for Abbas by making clear that it still maintains a hard-line goal of wiping Israel off the map (in global terms, "genocide").

In contrast, Syria has no trouble playing a double game. Back in 2004, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad told a visiting American that he was ready for serious secret negotiations with Israel. An entire conference was planned, only to be canceled by Assad at the last moment. Yet this kind of strategy serves him well, especially since Western analysts don't see through his game.

What Syria wants is the exact opposite of the things Westerners suppose it needs. Behind the political maneuvering is the ever-present threat of violence. No pro-Syrian figure has ever been assassinated in Lebanon, while leaders of all three predominantly oppositionist communities have been killed by Syria. In the last 18 months, there have been at least 14 attempted assassinations -- many of them successful -- of those criticizing Damascus.

If the West really wants to aid the Lebanese people, it will support those seeking to preserve that country's independence, and help it establish a government capable of controlling its territory.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, Israel.

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