December 04, 2005

More on Syria


Israel and the US are at odds over the future of Syria in a post-Bashar Assad era, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

In a strategic dialogue held last week in Washington between the two countries, Israeli representatives warned that a future regime in Syria, should Assad lose power, might be just as problematic as the old one.

The Israelis projected three possible scenarios if the current regime does fall - all of them dangerous for the stability of the region.

The first was the possibility that Syria would deteriorate into total chaos and plunge into some sort of civil war; the second was that Assad would be succeeded by another member of the ruling Alawite sect who would be a hardliner like Assad; or, third, that an extreme Islamic regime would take over the country.

Sources briefed on the content of the talks said these Israeli warnings stood in stark contrast to the American view as it was presented in the dialogue. The Americans said they believed that, after Assad, Syria would go through an evolutionary process similar to the one Lebanon has experienced in the past year, and would transform into a free political society.

This optimistic scenario is based on the positive experience in Lebanon and the significant pro-reform forces already active in Syria.

The fact that Israeli and American officials were discussing "day after" scenarios for Syria does not indicate that the US has a plan for regime change in Syria, however.

According to the sources, the conversation was part of a joint attempt by Israel and the US to map out the long-term goals of both countries in the region and discuss future possibilities.

The two sides also discussed the wider issue of democratization in the Arab world and, here too, the Israelis said they were not as optimistic as the Americans regarding the prospects of promoting democratic reforms in the region.

Kiddies, let's not be more Catholic than the Pope on this one, OK? The Israelis know the local neighborhood, after all, better than a lot of chest-thumpers sitting in cubicles at our high-falutin' 'think'-tanks....and there are other outcomes besides, er, "evolutionary" ones that one can espy, alas...

P.S. More here, in case you missed it.

Posted by Gregory at December 4, 2005 02:01 PM | TrackBack (2)


As I think you know, Im pretty firmly pro-Israel.

That does not mean I think Israelis are omniscient about politics in the region.

And no, they are NOT the popes of democracy promotion? Wherever did you get that idea? From Juan Cole perhaps, who thought Wolfowitz was part of a Likud conspiracy? While say, Natan Sharansky speaks of democratization as a strategy, most of the ACTUAL Likud supporters I know are pretty deeply skeptical of arab democracy in general. The neocon democracy strategy is rooted in how UNlikudnik the neocons actually are.

I dont think we can rule out ANY of the possibilities - democracy, islamist takeover, another Allawite, or chaos. But we need to look at what those mean in policy terms. In particular if a Sunni Islamist dictatorship takes over, what does that mean to the US? How would such a regime differ from that in KSA, For ex? One should note that the Israeli view of the KSA regime is NOT shared with US "realists" for the most part? Would such a regime be containable, deterable, or even reconcilable?

What would the lessons for the region be of the fall of someone who defied the US and the UN, EVEN if they are succeeded by someone who doesnt like us?

Im glad the US and Israel are discussing Post-Assad Syria. That seems wise - much better than making policy decisions without planning for the aftermath.

I dont think the main takeaway is Israeli desire to retain Assad. They are realistic enough to know 1. That may not be possible. 2. Overreliance on Assad places too much bargaining leverage in Assads hands.

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 5, 2005 03:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

note this from the CSM:

"The regime is not supported by the people," says Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanouni, leader of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. "It is protected by the security organizations, the Army, and the international community.

"We think that if this international cover or protection is removed, and if the people are allowed to protest and demonstrate, as in Lebanon, the regime won't survive," says Mr. Bayanouni, who has led the group since 1996.

In recent weeks Bayanouni's underground Islamic movement has recently formed a loose, but unprecedented alliance with secular opposition parties against the Syrian government. "The message is that they are united and all have a shared vision," says Obeida Nahas, who runs the antiregime Website, "It was a way of showing that the secular and religious of Syria can unite."

The opposition's increasingly unified appearance aims to refute Assad's assertions that without him, the country would descend into Iraq-style anarchy and ethnic conflict. "The only threat [for Assad] left to play on is the fear of the unknown if the regime collapses - civil war, Iraqi-style chaos," says Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House in London.

Although the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood can only be estimated, it probably has more power and influence than all the other opposition groups combined and it is perceived as the greatest military and ideological threat to the regime.

But although Syria's Law 49 of 1980 still condemns any member of the Muslim Brotherhood to death, "they still have a lot of presence inside Syria," says Walid Suffour, president of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, who estimates that there are 4,000 Muslim Brotherhood members in prison and thousands more who have been released.

"Officially the Muslim Brotherhood do not exist in Syria but they are still the largest political [opposition] organization," explains Nahas, adding that they have benefited politically from the increase in grass-roots religiosity in Syrian society.

"And after four decades of dictatorship," says Nahas, "the Muslim Brotherhood realize that there can never be another period of one-party rule."

Bayanouni, a precise, silver-haired man living in exile in North London, emphasizes his organization's increasingly moderate interpretation of Islam. He also says that he is willing to work with the US against the Assad regime to reestablish democracy and political freedom in Syria.

"In principle we can deal with any country on the basis of mutual interest. I think that this is the natural way of dealing with others," says Bayanouni. "I am ready to have talks with anyone in order to help my people - as long as the interests of our country are not threatened."

Posted by: liberlahawk at December 5, 2005 04:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


suppose that the Israelis DID want to see Assad overthrown, and thought an alliance of democratic forces in Syria were positive - would it be a good idea for them to say so in public?

Posted by: liberalhawk at December 5, 2005 04:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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