The US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, visited Damascus twice over the course of two months, and the Syrians have been speaking positively about US President Barack Obama. Yet Washington renewed sanctions against Syria. What is going on?
It is clear that Obama has decided against following in the footsteps of France’s rashness [in dealing] with the Syrians. An informed US source told me that the Americans feel that “Bashar al Assad has too much confidence,” therefore they do not want a repeat of the haste shown by France. The source added, “Rapprochement with the Syrians will be a slower process than people expect…it will take place step by step; Damascus will do this and we will do that in return.”
Is it true that the Syrians have become arrogant because it was America that took the first step and the Saudis were the ones who presented the Arab reconciliation initiative?
The issue appears bigger and more complex than that. Whoever carefully read the statements that came out of Syria would have noticed that Damascus is going through a period defined by a lack of trust from all parties whether Arab, American or even Iranian, as Syria is walking through a minefield. Rapprochement with the Arabs will come at the expense of Iranian interests whilst rapprochement with Washington means clashing with Iran and its agents in the region, especially as Syria is the bond between them both geographically and politically.
If we look at what was said recently at the press conference held by the Syrian and Iranian Presidents in Damascus we can see that the Syrian President spoke about strategic ties that are “normal and do not constitute an axis,” whilst President Ahmadinejad said, “We are on the road to victory and the regional and global circumstances are quickly moving in the favor Iran and Syria’s positions.” This means that Iran wants Damascus to be steadfast and to wait. What is strange is that those who are now attacking the Arabs in defense of Syria are not Syrians; they are Iranian journalists as well as some Iranian news agencies.
This all comes at a time when Hamas is courting Syria by saying that no one else but it can negotiate with Israel. Hezbollah, in its role, has remained silent and has not commented at all. All this suggests that there is confusion amongst Iran’s allies regarding their ties with Syria.
Of course this is confusing for the Syrians; who can they trust? If they turn towards Washington and sever their ties with Iran there is nothing to guarantee American credibility.
If the Syrians go to America under the cover of the Arabs, who can guarantee that Washington will take them seriously and that they will accordingly gain the appreciation and the status that they want on both the Arab and international levels, based on the idea that they see themselves as being capable of solving the problems?
The problem is that if Syria waits longer than it should and there is US-Iranian détente regarding dialogue then Syria will become a playing card in Iran’s negotiations with the US. The Syrians will lose many powerful cards that they believe are now firmly in their hands!
Before anything else, what will Damascus do if Iran puts it in a difficult situation by going to war with Israel through Hezbollah or Hamas, especially as everybody knows that Syria has not engaged in war for 42 years and nowadays it can’t even reconcile [with others]?
Therefore, I believe that what Damascus is experiencing is more of a crisis of trust rather than a case of arrogance.