We do not know whether we are witnessing a feverish race between Syria and Iran to win the heart of the west, or is it a coordinated intentional effort from both countries to change from a policy of confrontation to a policy of appeasement and reconciliation without offering any real concessions.
A US television interview with Iranian President Ahmadinejad was the third time in one month where he expressed positive opinions toward Washington. Earlier, he delivered a speech in which he announced his approval of opening a consular office for the US Government in Tehran; then, on another occasion he praised that step, explaining that his country did not want confrontation. As for his interview with the US television channel, the clearest indication of a new address is that he talks – as if he is Mahatma Gandhi – about peace, his hate for wars, and his rejection of nuclear weapons, as they are not the means to win battles. He also abandoned his famous Samson-like rhetoric of threatening to burn Israel and destroy America. He considers the uranium enrichment and the nuclear project as issues that are not subject to revision or supervision.
Ahmadinejad’s statements were followed by additional comments made by one of his senior aides in which he praised Israel, and declared that Iran would like to be a friend and not an enemy of the Jewish State. As for the Syrian transformation, it preceded Iran’s by about two months, and has practically gone a long way. This confirms one of two probabilities; either the two allies are engaged in a major dispute with each other, and each side decided to proceed in the opposite direction of their joint policy; or that they are in agreement and are coordinating together to a great extent. The beginning came from Damascus when it surprised everybody by the fact that it started to negotiate with Israel in Turkey, and drink coffee with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Mediterranean conference, and also at the French celebration, in addition to sending envoys to Washington to meet people close to Israel, and its ambassadors volunteering to deliver speeches announcing Damascus’s wish to end the state of war with Israel. I do not imagine that the recent developments are the result of fear of news about preparations for an upcoming military strike against Iran, or of the increase of the siege on Syria and its senior officials, because the Iranian leadership, and also the Syrian leadership both have a skin that is as impregnable as that of a crocodile.
Whatever the truth may be – whether it is a dispute, or coordination – the new steps have given the region a breathing space for the first time, and have resurrected some hope of peace after many months of tension created by the exchanged threats of war. One of the observers has said that he can see cracks in the relationship between Tehran and Damascus. To tell the truth, this relationship has been from the beginning an unnatural one dictated by the fears stemming from the complications resulting from the assassination of Al-Hariri. The existence of the Syrian regime is based on a collection of balances, including a good relationship – not the entire relationship – with Tehran. As Damascus leans toward the Iranian line, it practically engages in immediate dispute with all the Arab opponents of Tehran. At the same time, there is very little in common between an extremist religious regime, and a regime that is hostile to the religious people. Therefore, if this transformation represents a divergence by Syria from Iran, this will be good news for the Arabs, and if it is Syrian coordination with the Iranians over a new regional and international reconciliation policy, it will be good news for everybody. However, if the statements and the rapprochement are merely cosmetic for the sake of the media and propaganda addressed to the west, the region will be nearly swaying where it stands.