Commentary Magazine


Re:Obama’s Middle East Choices

One possible answer to the question I was asking yesterday — Is the U.S. ready to abandon the idea of a free Lebanon in order to get an Israeli-Syrian peace process back on track? – is given today in Ari Shavit’s column in Haaretz.

The truth is that Israel never really cared about free Lebanon, and was always ready to sacrifice this country for the cause of stability and better relations with Syria. Israeli policy makers hardly believe that Lebanon can be a “real” country, and have always looked at the Bush administration’s attempts at strengthening Lebanon with suspicion and puzzlement. But what Aaron David Miller implied yesterday by way of omission — he didn’t mention Lebanon in the article about Israel and Syria — Shavit does today in the most blatant way possible. He believes that “if the new administration in Washington and the new government in Jerusalem act, it stands to reason that they are capable of fostering a change of direction in Damascus.”

And for price? “[T]o reward it [Syria] generously with the Golan Heights and Lebanon.”

Will the new US administration adopt this (Israeli) position? This will be an interesting case for all those peace activists who keep complaining about too much Israeli influence in Washington.

They usually argue that Washington is too eager to adopt the Israeli position, and that’s why it is difficult to advance peace in the Middle East. However, this time it seems as if adopting the Israeli position will be exactly what these activists are looking for. Then again, they will not be able to complain about the “Israel lobby.”  Of course, they can always say that the “lobby” is acting against the will of the Israeli government and is influenced by the Israeli right wing. But this will be hard for them to do in the likely case that the right wing (namely, Binyamin Netanyahu) is in power in Israel. Then again — they’ll find something to complain about.

And as for Shavit’s article. There’s still a huge difference between the proposal he makes and the one made yesterday by Miller. While Miller is ready to “be patient”, and to recognize that “Syria won’t walk away from a 30-year relationship with Iran” – Shavit wants to “make sure that Syria is severing itself from Iran and jihad”.

In short: he is willing to pay the big money (in Lebanese currency) for the big prize. But if Miller is right, there will be no takers. Assad wants the big money for a small prize.