Wednesday, June 13, 2007

War scheduling: "Syria first, then Iran"

It's well known that Syria and Hizbullah constitute deterrents against an otherwise much more likely Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program, and that conversely, Iran is a deterrent to an attack on Syria and Hizbullah. Readings of US-Israeli intentions consequently have to focus on the question of balance and timing. Since at least the time of the Saudi-sponsored Mecca accord, which enjoyed a benevolent Syrian okay, and more recently with the reports and rumors of Israeli interest in negotiating the return of the Golan Heights, the weight of opinion seems to be that an attempt will be made to wean Syria away from its Iranian relationship as a necessary first step in dealing with Iran. In the words of Abdulbari Atwan in his Monday June 11 piece, the next war is supposed to be Shia versus Sunni, and Iran versus the Arab world, so they can't have Syria on the wrong side, hence the idea of using the Golan as a carrot.

The part about trying to break up the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah linkage is pretty much universally accepted, but Lebanese lawyer and former cabinet minister Issam Naaman says there is good reason to think Israel and the US are planning to go at this in a less-complicated way, namely via an Israeli war with Syria and Lebanon. (Naaman is the author of the April 19 op-ed that summarized what Lebanese think-tank types were able to glean from a round of US congressional junkets, notably the idea of false-flag AlQaeda schemes).

Naaman's argument has two parts: The first is that Iran and the US appear to have entered into discussions on an omnibus Iranian proposal for a regional settlement (he cites a Stratfor report of June 5 2007 on this which I haven't seen). There isn't any sign that this is going to come to fruition, he says, but still one of the implications is that no US or Israeli strike on Iran is likely in the near future, while these issues are being discussed between the US and Iran, and while the Bush administration pursues a longer-term pressure strategy including air and sea blockades.

By contrast, says Naaman, recent events are consistent with a run-up to an Israeli attack on Syria and/or Lebanon. Assuming failure to reach any wide-ranging agreement with Iran on stabilizing Iraq, the the writer says the US would again apportion blame to Syria, "and there is the fear that Israel would intervene with the Americans to convince them, if they weren't already convinced, to use force to split Syria off from its strategic alliance with Iran..." He says there are signs that Israel is moving toward a decisive clash with Syria, including military maneuvers in the occupied Golan Heights, and joint pilot training with the Americans. At the same time there has been a sudden change in the attitude of the Israeli prime minister Olmert, from opposition to any talks with Syria, to a proposal for returning the Golan in exchange for Syria's dropping support its alliance with Iran and Hizbullah. Naaman writes:
This shift in Olmert's attitude is interpreted by Arab and foreign observers and analysts as cover to create a sense of assurance in Syria, ahead of a military attack [on Syria] with the authorization of the Bush administration. ... And there is a fear that the events in Nahr al-Barid and Ain al-Hulwa, along with bombings [elsewhere in Lebanon], could be related to what Israel is planning against Syria and Lebanon. Even if the events and bombings are of Arab-Salafiya authorship, that doesn't prevent Israel from using them for its purposes...
Naaman says this reading of events underlines the need to contain the confrontations in the camps and the wave of bombings, so that it doesn't take on the scope of a civil war that could be used by Israel and its US sponsor as the occasion for its putative attack. His other practical point is the need to focus on the importance of the tripartite Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance as a bulwark against what Israel and the US have in mind.

There is a lot that I have left out of this summary, and some of it requires considerable regional and historical expertise to appreciate what he is getting at. But the gist of it is this: There is a plausible reading of current events in the region suggesting that the first aim of the Israel-US aggression will be not Iran, but Syria and/or Lebanon. And what I find peculiar is that while Naaman is able to say that this is a reading common to a lot of Arab and foreign analysts, for some reason this doesn't appear to have made it into the American papers.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Alison said...

I may be wrong of course, but the scenario outlined by Naaman strikes me as implausible. Rather, I share Abdul Bari Atwan’s concern that Syria may be bought off. After all, Syria has already started cosying up to the puppet government in Baghdad and it was actively involved in the US plot to split the Iraqi Ba’ath Party earlier this year, a plot which was hatched in connection with the liquidation of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The latter told his lawyers during the Lebanon crisis last summer that the Arabs are caught between a US-Israeli hammer and an Iranian anvil. That is a more compelling analysis than the idea that Iran – the handmaiden of the US in Iraq and previously in Afghanistan – and its allies constitute some sort of protective bulwark.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Dick Durata said...

It's not clear to me what the goals of an attack on Syria would be. It would seem unprovoked, and be hard for Egypt and the Saudis to swallow.

9:14 AM  
Blogger badger said...

If it happens, I think the idea is it will seem to have been "provoked" by something (spillover from Lebanese internal conflict, for instance), and have an anti-Shia coloration. But this is speculative. Naaman's point is that he thinks Syria/Lebanon is more likely to be the first flash-point, rather than Iran as a lot of people assume. Nothing the US does in this line of work seems what you could call really plausible beforehand, if you see what I mean.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Compulsive Reader said...

Basically, Naaman seems to be spelling out the previous civil war in Lebanon but just leaves out the Palestinians. He just didn't name what would be substituted for and Israeli attack. Hamas would be my only guess.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Compulsive Reader said...

Ignore that. Entirely, please.

9:58 AM  
Blogger badger said...

cr, I have the superhuman power to completely erase any trace of that if you would like me to do that...

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Yohan said...

Very glad to see you back, Badger.

I'm interested in any hidden tidbits on the Gaza fighting. It seems that the US wasted its time and money trying to prop up Fatah's goons and that Hamas didn't want to wait for a "strengthened" Abbas to come after them. But the question remains, now what?

3:28 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I'll try...

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Compulsive Reader said...

You know what, I retract the retraction. You've got Meshal in Syria, and Israel can cry Hamas and invade; that puts them in position to flank Hezbollah and pinch. Divide South Lebanon at Bekka Valley, try to break the supply lines to Hezbollah by controlling south-west Syria and bleed them to death. Clean sweep - Damascus, Hamas, and Hezbollah would all be caught; I think Israel thinks the Hamas card might provide better cover rather than an outright attack on Hezbollah...I just sounded stupid earlier because I didn't flesh out my thought and I feel quite positive that this is on some drawing boards of the IDF. Will it work and would they dare? I think they are doomed to a one-state solution anyway; they might just go out with a spectacular bloodbath as a finale.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Compulsive Reader said...

It really makes me sick to even believe that this is a fully credible and normal way for humans to think. Murder is ok as long as its done in the name of some bullshit reason like an "existential threat" and conducted on a wass scale, compartmentalized and legitimated through the echo chamber of "society". The only "existential threat" is the wishing away a peoples complicity in mass death. It frightens me to the core that this is acceptable, and that I am even able to contemplate it in some reserved "objective" fashion. Its an intellectual bruise, imposed and imprinted in us all by our media. Ugh. Pardon me.

4:50 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home