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A Surprise in Damascus - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Intra-Lebanese conflicts have been resolved, at least for a year, until it is time for the elections. The surprise happened in Turkey, with Syria negotiating with Israel. Suddenly, positive signs have emerged. In Tehran, there are rumors about an interesting solution that suggests the continued enrichment of uranium inside Iran, under direct international supervision rather than through surveillance cameras.

The disclosure of the launch of semi-secret Syrian-Israeli negotiations in Turkey represents a happy surprise. Nevertheless, it entails obscurity. Over a month ago, I heard about these negotiations from an Arab political source involved in the process. As much as this source believes in the usefulness of these negotiations for the stability of the entire region, he fears them. He doubts that these negotiations are a means to disrupt the complex and tedious Palestinian negotiations. In his view, the Syrians want to interrupt the negotiations that Mahmud Abbas is leading by pursuing a competing parallel track of negotiations.

As a matter of fact, I find it difficult to absorb the saying that Syrian negotiators are capable of ruining the work of their Palestinian colleagues, unless upon Israel’s desire. The apparent problem lies in the Israeli and not in the Syrian side. This is because we are witnessing a peace plan being managed by a weak person, namely, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In my opinion, what matters most is not Syria’s engagement in negotiations with Israel; rather, it is the fact that Syria is adopting a new policy that reflects its willingness to change. Negotiations are a brave step that gives the impression that Damascus is changing. Is it only a maneuver or is it truly a new policy?

Here, I will allow myself to try and understand the Syrian mentality, which has puzzled us for three years, during which Damascus has adopted a hostile policy against what it thought was an anti-Syrian plan that was being devised abroad since the invasion of Iraq five years ago.

Syria had the illusion that there was a conspiracy against its regime. To this day, there is no real evidence to reinforce this odd conclusion, unless we consider the crisis of Al-Hariri’s assassination and its developments at a later stage, although this crisis is not a conspiracy as much as it is a normal complication on the political and criminal levels.

In its endeavor to find protection, Damascus became more attached to Iran, at a time when Tehran was seriously showing enmity toward key Arab states and was adopting a dangerous clash-oriented policy with the entire West, and not only with the United States. Despite the several attempts to warn them that marching behind the Iranians would subject them to more devastation, the Syrians believed that the Iranians were providing them with protection and increasing their negotiating value. Finally, Damascus was encircled and entered the circle of danger.

There are no conspiracies against Damascus, nor is there a desire to change the regime there. Even the harshest critics in the West have not gone beyond suggesting a change in the attitude of the regime rather than a change in the regime itself. However, with time, and as the conflict expanded, Syria came close to falling in the line of fire. This is because some people say that it has been proved that targeting Iran is difficult and has unknown consequences. As for Syria, it is the weak link in the dual alliance.

I do not know whether or not the feeling of danger has infiltrated the Syrian mind. It is a good thing if it has. This is in order for Damascus to renounce its dangerous adventures, and for the Arabs to avoid a new catastrophe. However, if the brothers in Syria are yet to realize the significance of this danger, and if what we see in front of us are mere maneuvers through which Damascus is skillfully walking through minefields, we say: Let us hope that Damascus would realize that a mined path is long and dangerous.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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