Aaron David Miller, an elder US statesman [and former envoy to the Middle East] told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the US State department sent envoys to Damascus, and delegations from the US Congress visited Syria. This is significant because of the 30-year strategic relationship between Iran and Syria.” Miller added that the Iranians “will feel concerned at seeing a US ambassador in Damascus” and that in his opinion “the Israeli – Palestinian agreement will not be achieved. But the Israeli – Syrian agreement will take place which [is something that] America will move towards and encourage.”
What is more important; provoking Iran, or actually moving forward with regards to the Syrian – Israeli peace process and returning the captured Golan Heights to its people? Is it acceptable for Washington to proceed with a Syrian – Israeli peace prior to peace with Palestine?
If the issue is merely to provoke Iran, or to maneuver [politically] in order to put pressure on Iran then this will not solve anything, and indeed will only make things worse, but if the aim is to provide a genuine Syrian – Israeli peace then this will be a very positive move.
A Syrian – Israeli peace is something that is achievable today, in contrast to a Palestinian – Israeli peace, and so the Arabs must support this [Syrian – Israeli peace] as much as possible. Damascus is able to sign this agreement tomorrow, and the negotiations have overcome great difficulties. [Returning] the Golan Heights is also not as problematic as other similar issues, and it is enough to know that the decision to make peace in Damascus will lie solely in one man’s hands, the President, whereas the Palestinians today are in an appalling state of division.
Egypt [today] is seeking to unite the Palestinians, and previously Saudi Arabia [attempted to do so], and every time that an agreement has been vetoed – no matter how hard Cairo and Riyadh try- it is Iran and Syria and others that stand on the other side and pull Hamas to the opposing view.
Iran does not want to see any progress in the region with regards to the peace process or any other issues that are in Iranian hands as this weakens its negotiation position with the US. Damascus does not have faith in anyone at the moment, and does not want to end up as a negotiating chip in Iran’s negotiation with Washington.
The completion of a Syrian – Israeli peace would strengthen confidence in the peace process as a whole, and represent a major breakthrough in the Arab – Israeli conflict. The Syria that emerges following this peace will be completely different than the Syria of the past 30 years, who have stood in a gray square that is neither for peace nor for war. Peace with Israel will be a real message to Hezbollah, and by proxy Iran, and will mean Damascus taking a clear unambiguous position that will result in either the completion of the peace process, supporting Palestinian unity and Lebanese stability, or returning to the gray square, which is something impossible [in any case] because the cost of this would be insanely high.
In his statement, Mr. Miller said that there was an American proverb that said when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging, and he is right, the region cannot tolerate [any more] short-term or tactical solutions from Washington.
If the Obama administration wants to make a historical achievement in the most complex of global issues, namely the Arab – Israeli conflict, then it must begin in Damascus, for that is the key to the regional peace process as a whole, and not [pursue Syrian – Israeli peace] merely to provoke Iran.