Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Re: Assad’s “Full Reciprocity”

My contentions colleague Emanuele Ottolenghi astutely notes that, despite his alleged openness to peace negotiations with Israel, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is hardly prepared to accept the most necessary conditions of peace: distancing himself from Iran and cutting off its aid to Hamas and Hezbollah.

But Assad’s interview with L’Espresso contains a second stunning admission, this one by way of analogy. When defending Iranian-Syrian ties, Assad invokes U.S.-Israeli relations as a comparison:

It would be an absurd demand and there would be no more peace. How would Israel react if we demanded it breaks its relations with the United States?

For Assad–the last Arab leader whose legitimacy is framed in the ethos of Arab nationalism–this is a truly bizarre statement. After all, leaders of Assad’s ilk typically view U.S.-Israeli relations as comprising two unequal parties. Indeed, Assad was entreated to this very argument when, during his visit to Tehran last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that U.S. policy in the Middle East “is just another effort to strengthen its own status and that of the Zionists.” In other words, Israel is dependent on the U.S., which uses the Jewish state as a tool for advancing its own regional hegemony. The logical conclusion of Assad’s analogy is that Syria is similarly dependent on Iranian support!

I’ll give Assad the benefit of the doubt on this one: odds are that he didn’t mean to imply Syrian subservience. Indeed, when it comes to drawing analogies, it’s possible that he suffers from a sad case of Juan Cole Syndrome. But with Hezbollah seizing control of West Beirut earlier today–a move that some Lebanese leaders are calling a coup–it may be only a matter of time before Syria is truly more dependent on Iranian good graces for its security than ever before. This would suggest that, by Iran’s own machinations, Assad is unlikely to make it to a bargaining table anytime soon.