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Israeli-Syrian Peace and the New Moment In U.S. Grand Strategy

by Jason Brookhyser


Does the evolving situation in the Middle East offer the opportunity for constructive negotiations with Syria that could turn it away from support for terrorist organizations toward better relations with Israel and the West and also promote overall peace in the Middle East? This essay argues that a deal analogous to that which was achieved with Libya is possible if the United States renounces regime change as an objective. For a contrary view on negotiating with Syria, see an article by Barry Rubin that is reviewed in our Internet Article Reviews section.—Ed .

Nancy Pelosi’s recent trip to meet with the President of Syria in an effort to revive relations between the two countries certainly provoked a great deal of criticism and debate about the foreign policymaking powers of Congress and the political weakness of President Bush. The trip also highlighted an underlying desperation for change in U.S. foreign policy. Regardless of the potential efficacy of Pelosi’s methods, her giant leap to Syria serves as another sign that the United States has come to a crossroads in its strategy in the Middle East. Furthermore, the undermining of President Bush’s executive authority is the most recent example of a growing frustration over the dangers brought about by what many have come to call a reckless and arrogant U.S. grand strategy as the world’s unipolar hegemonic leader.

The revelations of unofficial talks between Israeli and Syrian figures over the last two years, which was leaked to the press last January, present a tremendous, though temporary, window for the United States to press ahead with the Israeli-Syrian peace process. The chain reaction that would be brought about by a peace agreement and the subsequent normalization of relations between Israel and Syria would include the end of Syrian support for Hezbollah and Hamas, the opportunity for a permanent peace between Israel and Lebanon and the further international isolation of the regime in Iran, as well as all of the elements necessary to bring about the successful implementation of a mutually beneficial solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States has come to a new moment in its history in which it must show itself as a truly benevolent hegemon, with farsighted interests, and reasonable respect for the legitimate interests of others. When asked why he would not support the draft peace plan that was established by the unofficial Israeli-Syrian meetings, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took cover in the claim that by opening a dialogue with Syria, Israel would anger the United States.1 Regardless of the sincerity of his claim, the United States should have immediately responded with unequivocal support for Israeli engagement with Syria. It is in the clear interests of the United States to use its power and resources to facilitate the Israeli-Syrian peace process; first, through direct U.S.-Syrian engagement, followed by the use of coercive pressure by the United States to bring the two states together.

In order to understand the likelihood of such engagement, it is first necessary to look back at the history of the conflict between Syria and Israel, particularly since the Six Day War of 1967.

The Hostile Evolution of Israeli-Syrian Relations
The origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict can be traced back to Israel’s inception in 1947, though the specific character of the current relations between these states began to take shape in the run-up to the Six Day War of 1967. Egyptian President Nasser began to form a new conception of the conflict that would bring together the powers of Arab nationalism against the perceived imperialist threat of Zionism. By turning the conflict into a pan-Arab confrontation with Israel, all for the sake of the Palestinian cause, Nasser was able to consolidate his power and influence within a unified Arab front.2 It thus became necessary for Israel to respond in kind, and reframe the conflict in such a way that would reflect the deepening nature of the existential threat.

Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion faced this threat by developing a public perception of the great dangers that lie on the border. By utilizing the still recent memories of the Holocaust, Ben-Gurion was able to create an atmosphere in Israeli public opinion of anxious hostility toward the Arab states in the region, which were certain to attack at any moment.

The specific course of events that led to the outbreak of violence in June of 1967 revolves primarily around Egyptian troop movements into the Sinai Peninsula, thereby increasing Israeli certainty that an attack was imminent. At a different level, though, the build-up to violence was directed and fed by misperceptions and intemperate rhetoric, which effectively trapped the leaders of both sides into a continuously escalating drive to confrontation. Israel used the opportunity of the war to assert its superior military strength, advancing into enemy territory and establishing itself as an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the Egyptian Sinai and the Golan Heights of Syria. The occupation would establish a continuous state of tension between the belligerents.

While Egypt regained the Sinai after the Camp David Accords of 1978, Syria has still to accomplish the return of the Golan. This lack of sovereign legitimacy has added to a sense of frustration and anger on the Syrian side of the conflict.3

After the Six Day War, the Israeli strategy in the region was driven by what came to be known as “the capsule theory.” It was argued that in order for the Israelis to achieve the most beneficial compromise to the Palestinian problem, they would first need to reach peace agreements with the surrounding Arab regimes. This would encapsulate the Palestinians and force them to negotiate directly with Israel, rather than through a hostile regional power.4

Syrian President Assad feared the encirclement of pro-Israeli regimes and, rather than enter talks that could lead to the return of the Golan Heights, chose to encourage the continuation of the conflict. This was especially true after Egyptian President Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem to address the Israeli Parliament, which led to the Camp David summit and the return of the Sinai to Egyptian control. Assad vehemently rejected Sadat’s example, and worked to ensure that other states in the region would reject it as well. Furthermore, the Syrian leader insisted that Israel would have to consent to retreat from the Golan before Syria would sit for comprehensive peace talks.5

In order to ensure Syrian security, Assad also worked to assert his control over Lebanon. This became especially necessary after Israel’s 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon to confront growing Palestinian militant factions in the area. Assad was keenly aware that Israeli access to Lebanon was essential to its regional influence, and that denial of such access would prove effective in containing its power. This added to Syria’s interest in control over Lebanese foreign policy for the purposes of hedging against regional marginalization.6

Syria’s uncompromising stance in the peace process continued until its economic and military stability was threatened by the demise of its patron, the Soviet Union, with the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, the Gulf War of 1991 established the United States as the unquestioned hegemon in the region. It is from this point that Assad began to offer overtures of accepting a bilateral peace with Israel, although, because of his perceived domestic constraints, he wanted an agreement that could be framed as a legitimate victory for Arab nationalism.

The Madrid Conference, which was sponsored by the United States and the Soviet Union, provided an opportunity for the Arab powers, Palestinians, and Israel to meet for multilateral discussions under a new atmosphere of diplomatic cooperation. This series of negotiations between Israel and Syria continued in the run-up to the Oslo talks between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It was at this time that the now well-known “Rabin deposit” was offered, in which the Israeli Prime Minister Rabin made clear his willingness to withdraw from the Golan, provided that Syria agree to meet Israeli post-withdrawal demands.7 The deposit would become the standard by which the Syrian leadership would measure all subsequent offers.

During this period, as a continuation of its hedging strategy against marginalization Syria increased its support for the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as strengthening relations with the regime in Iran.8 Assad’s uncompromising stance lasted through the rest of the Clinton Administration. With a final attempt to maintain the stability of the Oslo Accords in 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Barak followed the example of Rabin, and focused first on finding peace with his Syrian neighbor before moving ahead with the daunting task of a solution to the Palestinian problem. Unfortunately, like Rabin, Barak also faced the domestic constraint of a public out of favor with the idea of trusting the Syrian regime, as well as the further constraint of having to negotiate with Assad, who still insisted on maintaining his anti-Zionist image. It became necessary for the Israeli leader to look to Assad for assistance in the task of altering Israeli public perceptions of a hostile and uncompromising Syrian enemy. Because of his own domestic constraints, however, Assad could not make any public concession toward Israeli cooperation before he was assured of success in negotiating the return of the Golan.

A strategic shift occurred in the immediate period after the collapse of the 2000 talks, primarily as a result of the death of President Assad. His death brought to power his son, Bashar al-Assad, a Western-educated doctor who many felt would bring much needed domestic and foreign policy reform to the Syrian regime. Thus far, however, he has proven to be a disappointment to such hopes for a turn to the West, with some claiming that he has found himself trapped within the political inertia of his father’s old guard.9

A troubling characteristic of Assad’s rule, especially from the perspective of the Global War on Terror, is his favor for terrorist organizations, primarily Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. He maintains that they are, in fact, “national liberation movements,” and he has shown a tendency for overtly supporting them in their struggle against Israel.10 From the perspective of U.S.-Syrian relations, however, the focal point of tensions must necessarily center on the conflict in Iraq. In line with the recurring Syrian fear of being encircled by Western-oriented, pro-Israeli regimes, Assad made the calculation that he would best be served by using his resources to ensure that the United States met with failure in its mission.

As Syria is on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list, it has been subject to limited unilateral sanctions since 1979. However, with Syrian efforts to destabilize the nascent Iraqi regime, U.S. economic pressure increased in 2004 with the Syria Accountability Act.11 Tensions increased further after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in early 2005. Suspicions that the Syrian regime was somehow complicit in the assassination led the United States to withdraw its ambassador from Damascus.

Despite this downward spiral in Syrian relations with the United States and Israel, recent events have brought into sharp relief the potential for a breakthrough in the peace process and an end to the cycle of violence and apocalyptic rhetoric.

Secret Talks and Pelosi’s Mutiny
Within the last year, two events have occurred that have the potential to drastically alter the Israeli-Syrian peace process. The first is the revelation of unofficial talks between officials close to the Israeli and Syrian regimes, which have been occurring since 2004. Despite disavowals from both Syrian and Israeli officials as to their awareness of the talks, the back-channel meetings produced a draft peace plan, which some have called a powerful step forward.12 The second factor is Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria to meet with Assad and give a so-called “message of peace” from the Israeli Prime Minister. While Pelosi’s trip may have a more profound effect on the immediate prospects for talks, the results of the secret back-channel meetings offer the greater opportunity for developing a new way forward.

In an effort to repair relations between their two states, Assad traveled to Turkey in January of 2004 to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Shortly after this, a meeting occurred between former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Alon Liel and the Turkish Ambassador to Israel, Feridun Sinirlioglu. At this meeting the Turkish ambassador reportedly told Liel that the Syrian president requested the good offices of the Turkish prime minister in the service of restarting the peace process between Israel and Syria. Turkey had recently established an entente with Israel, which Assad hoped could be utilized to shift the Syrian-Israeli deadlock into a more productive direction.

It is from this point that Liel began to search for a partner on the Syrian side in order to begin a series of unofficial talks to be moderated by Turkey. With the help of Geoffrey Aronson of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, Liel was able to bring in Ibrahim Suleiman, a Syrian-American with close family ties to the Syrian President. After consulting with their respective officials, Suleiman was able to report that Syria was ready to start formal talks. Nevertheless, Liel came back with the message that the Israeli Prime Minister didn’t mind if they exchanged ideas, but Liel would not be authorized to enter into official negotiations.

Determined not to entirely lose the opportunity to open a dialogue, Liel and Suleiman achieved an agreement with Swiss diplomat Nicholas Lang in which Switzerland would serve as host to a series of covert meetings.13 Over the course of two years and eight meetings, the parties worked through their various demands and issues and were able to produce a draft peace agreement. The Syrians then made an offer to move the discussions to an official level, which Israel promptly refused. Once news of the talks was leaked to the press, both the Syrian and Israeli governments were quick to dismiss it as something that was never officially sanctioned.

Liel and Aronson leaked news of the meetings, along with the text of the draft agreement, to the press in the hopes that it would spur both sides to push ahead with official talks.14 According to the agreement, the Golan would revert back to Syrian sovereignty, but it would hold the status of a “peace park,” which would remain demilitarized and open to Israeli citizens without the necessity of a visa. It was certainly an innovative solution to the long-standing problem of finding a compromise between the demands of Israel’s security and Syria’s sovereignty. Under the draft plan, the border area is demilitarized at a territorial ratio of 1 to 4 in Israel’s favor, and control over the use of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret would be retained by Israel. Furthermore, the agreement states that Syria will cut off all support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and it will also ease back in relations with Iran.

Despite the favorable terms of the agreement, as well as the momentum created when Suleiman travelled to Jerusalem to address the Israeli Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Israeli leadership has yet to take seriously Syria’s offers of dialogue. Additionally, Syria refuses to make a more publicly explicit statement of its willingness to make certain concessions and, above all, the United States has shown itself to be at best divided in its interest in intervention. The U.S. internal divisions are evidenced by the recent travels of Nancy Pelosi through Israel and on to Syria, which elicited heated criticism by the White House.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is one of the most powerful politicians in the U.S. government. Furthermore, as a Democrat, she is in an especially strong position to counter President Bush’s Republican agenda. Despite criticism from the White House, in which Bush asserted that Pelosi’s trip to Syria sent “mixed signals,” the Speaker met with President Assad and reportedly delivered to him a message from Prime Minister Olmert that Israel was ready for peace talks.15 Bush argued that “meetings with many high-level Americans have done nothing to persuade Assad to control violent elements of the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, to halt efforts to destabilize Lebanon or to stop allowing ‘foreign fighters’ from flowing over Syria’s border into Iraq.”16 In response, Pelosi claimed that the Administration’s attempts to isolate Syria have not had any positive benefits, and it had become time to put pressure on Bush to open a dialogue with the regime.

Regardless of whether observers believed Pelosi could be successful in pressuring the Bush Administration to follow her example, some saw the trip more as a domestic political ploy than a sincere attempt at reinvigorating the peace process. As the press reported, “Pelosi’s visit to Syria was the latest challenge to the White House by congressional Democrats, who are taking a more assertive role in influencing policy in the Middle East and the Iraq war.”17 In terms of Pelosi’s “message of peace,” the Israeli Prime Minister responded to her announcement of his willingness to enter talks by issuing a press statement clarifying his message as one of willingness to meet only after Syria renounced all support for terrorist groups, and pledged to cease its attempts to destabilize Lebanon and Iraq. It is clear, according to Alon Liel, that the Syrian side would fear looking weak domestically if it were to give up its hedge strategy of supporting groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as its relationship with Iran, before it had achieved anything through negotiations.18 All things considered, it would seem that Pelosi’s trip might have been counterproductive. By establishing with undeniable clarity the Israeli unwillingness to talk in the absence of Syrian concessions, which Assad had shown himself unwilling to make, the Speaker’s attempts at diplomacy have only strengthened the barriers to peace.

Regardless of the difficulties the Pelosi trip may have caused for the prospects of U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Syrian peace process, the recent strategy utilized by the Bush Administration has made it clear that such involvement would have been highly unlikely. In order to devise a framework through which to envision an effective strategy for peace, it is first necessary to look at the larger U.S. grand strategy over the last six years. Only after the more fundamental faults in foreign policy have been isolated and modified can a more specific strategy in the Middle East be drawn.

A New Moment in U.S. Power and Influence
Because of the apparent deadlock between the Israeli and Syrian regimes on the respective terms for peace, the United States would best be served in its policy goals by approaching Syria first. A successful engagement with Syria would create numerous benefits for the United States, including a far more effective position from which to coerce both Israel and Syria to come together to negotiate the normalization of their relations.

It is clear that public bilateral talks between the United States and Syria would create significant regional and domestic concerns for both states. Syria would be faced with intense pressures through its alliance with Iran to reject any agreement that would spell the moderation of Syrian relations with the West and Israel. The Bush administration, on the other hand, would face public embarrassment, as well as indignation from within the Republican Party, if it became known that the United States was reversing its policy and engaging with Syria in the shadow of Pelosi’s recent trip. Therefore, it is in the interests of both states to conduct their initial bilateral meetings in secret.

The benefits to U.S. national security that would accrue with the successful normalization of U.S.-Syrian relations provides these initial talks with the status of being a worthy end in themselves. Above all, a Syrian turn toward the West, including its markets and security interests, would guarantee a shift in the regional balance of power. Furthermore, the “grave and deteriorating” situation in Iraq would be greatly ameliorated with the achievement of Syrian cooperation in U.S. efforts.19 Indeed, Syria ultimately desires a stable Iraq as much as anyone, and has only sought to destabilize U.S. efforts as part of a short-sighted strategy, based upon the fear of a stable U.S.-backed power on its borders.20 These goals are achievable even in the absence of a finalized Israeli-Syrian agreement, and come with the added benefit of making the potential for such an agreement all the more likely.

There are two cases of foreign policy successes during the Bush administration that should be applied to U.S. strategy in bringing about a Syrian peace agreement. The approach devised for the United States in its relations with Syria should, in part, be guided by the lessons learned from the recent coercive diplomatic successes in Libya and North Korea. In particular, the case of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s monumental turn from state-sponsored terror and WMD acquisition to pro-Western cooperation and accommodation serves as an exceptional framework through which to envision what is necessary for success in Syria.

For Libya, the use of long-term unilateral and multilateral sanctions is particularly instructive. The effect of sanctions on its oil industry, which is a primary force holding up the Libyan economy, played a significant role in persuading Qaddafi to accept U.S. demands in order to reopen trade and modernize his domestic oil infrastructure.21 In the case of Syria, expanded multilateral sanctions are currently not a realistic option. Nevertheless, there is evidence that Syria is experiencing an economic downturn, which the United States could counter with a number of financial incentives.

With the end of the Cold War, Syria was cut off from its primary source of financial protection, the Soviet Union. This has led to increasing international isolation, from which Syria has not been able to recover. Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made the prediction that Syria will become a net importer of oil by the end of the decade, thereby necessitating international oil investment.22 Attracting such investment first requires a stable political environment. Indeed, there have been recent discussions between Syria and the European Union over the potential for an Association Agreement, which would prove beneficial to Syrian economic development. The EU has expressed its hesitation to proceed with implementation of the plan, however, because of its concern over Syria’s unstable political climate.23

A further example of Syria’s economic tribulations stems from its strategic alignment with Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq war. As discussed above, Assad chose to increase Syrian relations with Iraq in the immediate period prior to the invasion, both to hedge the U.S. threat to the region, as well as to capitalize on the clear economic benefits. These increased economic ties would prove disastrous, however, after the fall of Baghdad.

It is thus clear that Syria is in need of assistance to bring it out of international isolation and subsequent economic downturn. In addition, Assad has shown himself to be interested in domestic reform, though the strictures of his father’s old guard make such changes extremely difficult. He is also concerned that Syria’s economic troubles could bring his regime into popular disrepute, and could possibly be a destabilizing factor. He thus would identify economic assistance as an opportunity to offset public dissatisfaction, as well as to signal to the old guard the benefits of Western cooperation.24

In response to Syria’s economic trouble and Assad’s interest in reform, the United States should offer a series of financial incentives. Initial steps could include the gradual walking back of U.S. unilateral sanctions. This would first involve establishing how Syria can fulfill the conditions necessary to be removed from the State Sponsors of Terror list. A further step would be U.S. assistance in Syrian accession to the World Trade Organization. As with U.S. financial assistance to Pakistan in the run-up to the war in Afghanistan, the United States could also use its influence at the IMF to construct a financial aid package for Syrian development.

In order for U.S. coercive strategy to be balanced, the series of incentives offered must be reciprocal to what the United States demands of Syria in return. Once again, the Libyan case provides a framework through which to measure a balanced strategy.

Tracing the coercive strategy in Libya back to the Reagan administration, the declared policy was one of policy change, though specific U.S. actions, such as the targeted bombing of Qaddafi’s headquarters in 1986, made clear that U.S. intentions in Libya went beyond a simple change in policy. In terms of proportionality, therefore, “the Reagan strategy toward Libya was imbalanced. The expansiveness of the ends was highly disproportional to the limited means.”25 The strategy remained disproportional until the current Bush Administration, when British pressure was successful in gaining U.S. declarations that regime change was, in fact, off the table. Indeed, Qaddafi insisted that the U.S. administration repeatedly restate its intentions. “The pattern is quite striking of the Libyans’ seeking reassurances throughout the negotiations that the terms were policy change not regime change.… Had Libya had to guard against policy concessions opening the way to efforts at regime change, it would have been less likely to make its dramatic policy changes.” 26

Libya is not the only case of the Bush administration taking regime change off the table in order to coerce a rogue regime to concede to U.S. demands. Perhaps the most rogue regime of them all, North Korea, was nevertheless comfortable enough of its status with the Bush administration to make a number of concessions in recent negotiations over its nuclear weapons program.27 Previously, Bush has made it clear that he was not in favor of talking with tyrants. It seems, however, that his recent deal with North Korea would indicate otherwise. As the New York Times reported, “For Mr. Bush, bogged down in Iraq, his authority undercut by the November (2006) elections, any chance to show progress in peacefully disarming a country that detonated a nuclear test just four months ago could no longer be passed up.”28

Criticism of the North Korean deal also highlights an ongoing debate within the White House. Disapproval from such traditional hawks as former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton echoed similar friction throughout the Libyan case. It was argued from Bolton’s side that regime change should always remain an option, until the goals of liberalization and democratization are achieved.29 With the North Korea case, in particular, it seems that the Bush Administration learned the lesson that “sometimes the United States has to negotiate with dictators and odious rulers, because the other options—military force, sanctions or watching an unpredictable nation gain a nuclear arsenal—seem even worse.”30 It thus follows that, in certain cases, the United States should expect to find more success in coercing authoritarian regimes toward policy change if it is clear that regime change is not an option.

This applies specifically to the declared mission of democratization in the Middle East. Assad has made it clear that he has no interest in liberalizing Syria’s political structures. As Shlomo Ben-Ami has argued, “Peace cannot wait for Arab democracy to emerge; it will have to precede it.”31 It thus follows that the United States should take regime change off the table and confront Syria with the explicit interest of normalizing relations with the Assad regime, with a stated respect for Syria’s sovereign legitimacy.

With an offering of financial incentives and the line drawn at policy change, the United States should also declare an interest in returning its ambassador to Damascus as soon as possible. The United States should also make clear the steps required to remove Syria from the State Sponsors of Terror list. This would include the severance of all Syrian ties to groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as efforts to close the Syrian border with Iraq in order to stem the flow of insurgents. It is likely, however, that the final status of Syrian relations with these groups will not be concluded until after direct talks between Syria and Israel have begun. As a final step toward achieving the goal of Israeli-Syrian negotiations, the United States should make clear that it understands Syrian demands and that it recognizes the legitimacy of the Syrian claim to the Golan.32

After the United States has achieved some progress in its direct engagement with Syria, it should move forward in its efforts to bring Israel and Syria together for talks. One benchmark that must be achieved, however, before the United States attempts to bring the parties together, is a Syrian pledge to sever its ties to all terrorist organizations and distance itself from Iran, all in exchange for the return of sovereign rights over the Golan. Additionally, the United States should respond to claims that Assad’s declared interest in opening talks is simply a ploy to lessen Syria’s international isolation. In an interview for “Iba Reshet Bet Radio” in Israel, the chairman of the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, expressed this sense of skepticism: “What concerns Israel, the United States and a large portion of the European community is whether or not this is just a tactical move on the part of the Syrians designed to reduce the tremendous pressure which has been brought to bear upon them by the international community.”33

The United States should counter these claims, along with all other doubts within the Israeli government of the sincerity of Syria’s interest in peace, with evidence of Syrian cooperation with U.S. efforts in Iraq, as well as the Syrian pledge to cease its support for those groups that pose the most direct threat to Israeli security. If the Israeli government is still reluctant to participate in talks with Syria, the United States should make clear its intentions to move forward with the normalization of U.S.-Syrian relations, as separate from U.S.-Israeli relations. As the fate of such immediate issues as Lebanese stability and the Palestinian question hang in the balance of Israeli-Syrian relations, the Israelis would ultimately see cooperation with the U.S. peace initiative as in their best interests.

Despite four decades of existential conflict, Israeli-Syrian relations are ready to be set on the path to peace. This cannot happen, however, without the direct intervention and leadership of the United States. As it stands, U.S. strategy in the Middle East, with its focus on the democratization of rogue regimes, is not suitable for engaging with Syria. However, such engagement is necessary, primarily to demonstrate to Israel the Syrian intent of making the necessary concessions to bring about a mutually beneficial peace agreement. The United States would serve its own security interests by engaging with the Syrian regime, with policy change declared as its highest goal. This would promote stability in Iraq, as Syrian support would lend a degree of legitimacy that the United States is clearly lacking. Additionally, the normalization of U.S.-Syrian relations, followed by the same in Israeli-Syrian relations, could lead to the beginnings of a regional security arrangement, which would greatly alleviate U.S. security concerns and allow for a long overdue alleviation of the region’s animosities.End.


1. “Spurning an Olive Branch; Israel and America,” The Economist, January 20, 2007.
2. Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 87.
3. Flynt Leverett, Inheriting Syria: Bashar’s Trial By Fire (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2005), 2.
4. Ben-Ami, Scars of War, 154.
5. Ibid.
6. Leverett, Inheriting Syria, 40.
7. Leverett, Inheriting Syria, 47.
8. Leverett, Inheriting Syria, 49.
9. Ibid, 299.
10. United States Institute of Peace Special Report, Washington and Damascus: Between Confrontation and Cooperation (Washington, DC: USIP, 2005), 4.
11. Ibid, 17.
12. See: Akiva Eldar, “Israeli, Syrian Representatives Reach Secret Understandings,” Haaretz, January 16, 2007; “Why Can’t They Just Make Peace,” The Economist, January 20, 2007; “Spurning an Olive Branch: Israel and America,” The Economist, January 20, 2007; Jaap Van Wesel, “The Man Who Would Make Peace,” The Jerusalem Report, April 16, 2007; Isabel Kershner, “Syria Seeks Peace, Advocate Tells Israelis,” The New York Times, April 13, 2007; Akiva Eldar, “Background: How the Covert Contacts Transpired,” Haaretz, January 16, 2007.
13. Kershner, “Syria Seeks Peace,” New York Times.
14. Van Wesel, “The Man Who Would Make Peace,” The Jerusalem Report.
15. See: Hassan M. Fattah, “Pelosi’s Delegation Presses Syrian Leader on Militants,” New York Times, April 5, 2007; Zeina Karam, “Nancy Pelosi Tours Damascus Market, Mosque in a Syria Visit Denounced by Bush,” Associated Press, April 4, 2007; Matthew B. Stannard and Amr Emam, “Mideast Media Mostly Upbeat on Visit,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 2007.
16. Jennifer Loven, “Bush Calls Democrats ‘Irresponsible’ on Iraq Money, Raps Pelosi’s Syria Trip,” Associated Press, April 3, 2007.
17. Karam, “Nancy Pelosi Tours Damascus Market,” Associated Press.
18. Kershner, “Syria Seeks Peace,” New York Times.
19. See: James A. Baker, III and Lee H. Hamilton et al., The Iraq Study Group Report (New York: Vintage, 2006), particularly 3-33 and 43-59.
20. Ibid, 47; See: Simon, “The Road to Damascus,” 112; and Ben-Ami, Scars of War, 299; for a further discussion of Assad’s strategy in the run up to, and throughout, the Iraq war.
21. Ibid, 81.
22. “Syria; Turning Back The Clock,” Petroleum Economist, January 26, 2007.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid, 116.
25. Jentleson and Whytock, “Who ‘Won’ Libya,” 60.
26. Ibid, 73.
27. See: “Faces Saved All Round-The North Korean Nuclear Deal,” The Economist, February 17, 2007; David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, “Rice is Said to Have Speeded North Korea Deal,” New York Times, February 16, 2007; “The Lesson of North Korea,” New York Times, February 14, 2007.
28. David E. Sanger, “Outside Pressures Snapped Korean Deadlock,” New York Times, February 14, 2007.
29. For Bolton’s criticism of North Korea deal, see: Helene Cooper and Jim Yardley, “Pact with North Korea Draws Fire From a Wide Range of Critics in US,” New York Times, February 14, 2007; for a look at his influence on the Libyan case, see: Jentleson and Whytock, “Who ‘Won’ Libya,” 70-75.
30. Sanger, “Outside Pressures Snapped Korean Deadlock,” New York Times.
31. Ben-Ami, Scars of War, 330.
32. Leverett, Inheriting Syria, 165.
33. Transcript of interview available at: Federal News Service, “Interview with Tzachi Hanegbi, Chairman of the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,” (Iba Reshet Bet Radio, 12:25 (GMT+3) April 12, 2007).


Jason Brookhyser is an editor for the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the House of Representatives. He received an M.A. from the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. The views expressed here are his own.

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