Sunday, February 28, 2010

U.S. Government Rewards Syria; Syria's Client Threatens to Kill Americans

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By Barry Rubin

Forgive me for writing so much about U.S.-Syria events but it is such a remarkable story that it deserves a lot of attention and it really does reveal a great deal about the problems of current U.S. foreign policy. And read on to the end because there’s been a shocking new development.

Imagine: the United States gives concessions to Syria, most recently the announced return of its ambassador to Damascus. The ambassador was removed after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Syria has not cooperated fully in the investigation; it is suspect number one in the murder. Meanwhile, Syria continues to finance, train, arm, and transport terrorists going into Iraq to kill Americans (as well as Iraqis, of course). So nothing has changed but the United States is acting as if the matter has been resolved.

Of course the administration has reasons for behaving the way it does—though not always good ones. It wants to pretend there’s an easy way out over Iran by pulling Syria away from Tehran (despite Syria confirming and strengthening the alliance every day); hoping Syria won't escalate during Iraq pull-out (and ignoring it every time Damascus sponsors a major terror attack there); trying to prove that engagement works and avoiding conflicts.

Of course the problem is that this feeds Syrian arrogance and bad behavior. If you’ve never followed the speeches of Syrian leaders and the media there, you can’t imagine how they think: We are the center of the earth! America needs us and we don’t need them! Long live the resistance to destroy Israel and kick the United States out of the Middle East.

But, as I noted here and here, the latest American concession was met by a Syrian punch in the teeth: the summit of Iran, Syria, and Hizballah, the renewed threats and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad openly ridiculing the U.S. effort to moderate his policy.

Now, however, the Syrians and their friends have gone even further in spitting on the United States.

Only hours after Hizballah’s most powerful figure, Hasan Nasrallah, returned from Damascus, another Hizballah leader, Nawwaf Moussawi, has threatened the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison. This statement is in the context of a whole string of such hints that something bad will happen to her if American policy doesn’t change. “She does not [follow] diplomatic limits,” he said, adding “The US Embassy in Lebanon is a state within the state” which meddles in Lebanese politics and threatens the country’s security.”

Moussawi continued: “Whatever the Americans know about Lebanon, they pass it on to the Zionist enemy.” That isn’t just a complaint about the U.S.-Israel relationship but an accusation that U.S. diplomats are all enemy spies, which means if one of them were to be killed or kidnapped that would be justifiable since they are, according to Hizballah leaders, trying to destroy and defeat Lebanon. And Lebanese listeners know precisely what he is threatening.

By the way, Moussawi is a Hizballah member of parliament, a category which according to U.S. and British officials proves he’s a moderate since politicians can’t be terrorists they say.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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