Is Syria isolated? Of course it is. Does Syria have any friends? It is difficult to say, as nobody can be absolutely certain of its ties with Tehran and Hezbollah.
With regards to the French, Paris still uses the conditional mood when talking about Damascus, saying if Damascus does this, or if Damascus doesn’t do that… This is indicative of a lack of trust in Damascus. As a result, the Syrians are concerned today, yet they are faced with an opportunity.
Damascus is concerned about the Rafik Hariri International Tribunal, its Arab and international isolation, and it is also worried that the new Obama government will begin its administration with a fatal error, leading to more years of aggression against Washington and this is something that Syria does not want.
Another issue that is worrying Syria is that US President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to deal with Iran using the carrot-and-stick approach. If the stick is used, and in the case that Tehran is attacked, Syria will find that it is the weakest link. If the carrot approach is followed with regards to Washington and Tehran and there are negotiations without resorting to the use of force then Damascus will no doubt be a point of negotiation between Washington and Tehran, just as Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraq will be.
Today, reports indicate a possible meeting between the Syrian President [Bashar al Assad] and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to inaugurate direct negotiations between the two countries. This, if it happens, would be a quick way for the Syrians to break their isolation and evade the obstacles ahead, and establish the kind of relations they want with Washington.
The entire issue might be based on speculation, but Syria’s desire to negotiate with Israel seems sincere, even after the issue of the American presidency was settled, considering that some saw this as Syria buying time.
The Israelis say that peace with Syria is more likely to happen before realizing the [Israeli-Palestinian] two-state project. Some reports indicate that negotiations between Damascus and Tel Aviv have made good progress.
I believe that for the sake of realizing the peace project in the region as a whole, Israeli-Syrian peace might be more realistic since Damascus will not let the Palestinian-Israeli process pass without problems before it settles its issue of the Golan Heights with Israel. Accordingly, the solving of the Syrian-Israeli issue is more likely to be achieved and it will be a real coup in the region and it will be in the interest of the Syrians to conclude the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Therefore, the opportunity is there today for the Syrians to kill two birds with one stone; firstly to regain the Golan Heights and secondly to break the Arab and international isolation. At that point, Lebanon will be like the icing on the cake, as they say.
Israel is not interested in Lebanon as much as it is keen for Syria to be an enemy to Hezbollah in order to break Iranian alliances in the region. Of course, there cannot be Syrian-Israeli peace while there are normal Syrian-Iranian ties.
Will Assad do it? Will he proceed in the peace process with Israel? If so, it will be, as I said before, equivalent to a coup in the region. Khaled Meshal will not find a furnished flat to rent in Damascus and Hassan Nasrallah will become more moderate than the March 14 coalition!