Sunday, December 20, 2009

Harriri in Damascus.. Should not Surprise US

If 2009 was a good year for president Bashar al-Assad, Saad Harriri’s visit to Damascus on Sat. Dec 19th must have topped the Syrian cake with a big cherry. This visit by the Lebanese head of government to Damascus coincides with Lebanese President Suleiman’s visit to Washington. President Suleiman has a tough sales pitch for President Obama on Mon Dec 21st, he wants the U.S. to provide military aid to the Lebanese army and to nullify 1559 UN resolution sighting that Hezbollah arms issue is to be discussed only within a national forum, and please take note President Obama: everything is cool with Syria.

The fast track improvement in the Syrian Lebanese relations started with the end of summer 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel’s military objectives did not materialize; Hezbollah declared a victory. Consequently, Hezbollah’s political agenda was handed a much needed boost after winning 35 seats in the May 2005 elections. The inherent weaknesses of the Seniora government started to unfold in 2007 and 2008 ending with a siege on the Lebanese Parliament staged by Hezbollah coalition supporters. This troubled period ended when the Doha Agreement in May 2008 handed the Hezbollah coalition a number of concessions changing the parliament configuration from 50+1 to a third and two thirds. Furthermore, the Doha agreement handed Hezbollah coalition a veto over every government decision.

From the Syrian perspective, having friendly Lebanese officials in office is a matter of security and stability in the region President Suleiman made a visit to Damascus this past month after a number of Lebanese officials made the same trip in hopes of paving the way for normalized relations. One contentious element remained, and Harriri’s visit to Damascus yesterday marked the quintessential tipping point. In all, one can clearly see in this past year that Syrian preference dictated how and when this bilateral relation should proceed.

In contrast to what some observers would like to project on the dynamics of the region, the Syrian Lebanese relations are not tied to the equation of Syrian military presence, but are rather subject to the equation of a big authoritative, consolidated state and the factional interests of a small state suffering from identity crises. The Lebanese cannot escape geopolitics, a reality that is understood by the Christian Lebanese partners of Hezbollah and its prominent Maronite, General Aoun. It is refreshing to see that Sunni Lebanese are getting the message as well.

One hopes that this visit is indeed a step forward in the stability and prosperity of Lebanon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Price of Not Making Peace: Israel is loosing its Appeal

Syria substituted the Israeli gateway to better relations with the U.S., by improving Syria's relations with pro U.S. countries like the EU, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in 2009. Meanwhile, the Syrians have left the door open for further unofficial peace negotiations with Israel, while responding to Israeli military preparations with a joint defense strategy with Iran.

Luring Syria away from Iran is highly unlikely with shy friendly nudges from the U.S. every now and then and without concrete advancements on the Syrian Israeli peace track. Advancements that are hard to commit to by the Israeli side since they involve the occupied Golan Heights.

Not committing to a comprehensive peace with its Arab neighbors, Israel is loosing its high tech edge to China, India, Turkey, EU who are increasing the number of trade agreements with Arab countries. The economic losses for Israel resulting from forgone high tech contracts could easily amount to a considerable sum, not to mention agricultural and low grade industry trade. Israeli high tech comparative advantage will slowly diminish not because Arab countries will catch up to Israel’s technological level but because there are numerous and ever increasing providers for high tech trade deals.

The liability of Israel threatening military strikes every now and then is burdening the leverage of U.S. diplomats who are involved in Mideast peace tracks. Furthermore the impact of such threats ( a trend since 2006) amounts to temporal political pressure which will detract from the good will established in prior unofficial peace talks in recent month.

Not committing to Peace has a high price