Friday, July 6, 2007
By Sami Moubayed
"Syria's involvement in the recent release of British journalist Alan Johnston is just the latest example of the positive role that Damascus can play in Palestine and the Middle East. The Syrians want to be seen as problem solvers and show the world that they can deliver in Palestine and even Iraq. Washington knows this, but is reluctant to admit it in public......
Syria, the only country that has refused to bend to US pressure and sign a flawed peace deal with Israel, has credibility in the Arab street. Radical groups like Hamas and Hezbollah trust and listen to Syria. That does not apply to countries like Jordan and Egypt, that can play a mediating role in some crises but do not have the credibility that Syria enjoys. Syria loves to play the fireman, especially in Palestinian affairs. Doing so gives the country leverage over other Arab affairs and proves that it is still a power broker in Palestine.
That status was reduced when former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was around and tried to clip Syria's wings in Palestinian politics - in vain, due to Syria's strong alliance with Hamas.
Second, Syria uses this diplomacy to market its image in the Western world as a source of stability. It loved the way Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, described it during her April 2007 visit to Syria, saying, "the road to Damascus is the road to peace".
The Syrians want to be seen as problem-solvers rather than problem-seekers. They want to show the world - mainly the US - that just as they can deliver in Palestine, they can deliver in Iraq and Lebanon.
Former US secretary of state Warren Christopher wrote in The Washington Post about his encounter with Syria in the 1990s and how the country influenced the leaders of Hezbollah to stop the conflicts with Israel in 1993 and 1996. He said: "We never knew exactly what the Syrians did, but clearly Hezbollah responded to their direction." And perhaps we won't know what the Syrians did with Hamas, but clearly Hamas - and the Islamic Army - responded to their direction. "