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Embracing Assad By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 05, 2008

Israel is objecting to the EU’s plans to sign an association agreement with Syria on December 14. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy “said Syria had done nothing since 2004 to show that it was genuinely interested in peace or calm in the region.”

Or in his words: “There is an unbearable discrepancy between what they say and what they do. They speak about peace and tranquility, but supply Hizbullah with arms, host the headquarters of terrorist organizations in their capital and are engaged in various unsavory activities in the Middle East.”

The irony couldn’t be greater because it is outgoing, scandal-plagued Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert—a one-man assault on Israeli values and interests—who launched Syria’s, and specifically its president Bashar Assad’s, relegitimization in Western eyes.

As David Schenker details in an informative article, it was the announcement back on May 21 of indirect, Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli talks that—along with a seemingly helpful Syrian gesture toward Lebanon—“opened the floodgates of European engagement” with Damascus. July 14, this year’s Bastille Day, found Assad in Paris to join President Nicolas Sarkozy in the celebrations. And that was just the start.

Sarkozy, impressed by his guest, quickly urged the EU to ease its stance toward Syria, and gave the green light to oil-and-gas-giant Total and construction-giant LaFarge to sign lucrative contracts with it as well. In September Sarkozy visited Syria, “setting the stage,” as Schenker puts its, “for a visit by Syrian foreign minister Walid Mouallem to London in October.”

Now even the Bush administration—heretofore very frosty toward Syria particularly because of its enabling of the Iraqi insurgency—got into the act as, also in September, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and then Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch, also met with Mouallem at the UN.

Seemingly that opening was nipped in the bud when on October 26 U.S. helicopters hit a major Al-Qaeda operative and Iraq-destabilizer on Syrian soil. But it hasn’t inhibited Europe; in November British foreign minister David Miliband visited Damascus—and now, if the EU goes ahead with the association agreement, it means a full normalization of EU-Syrian relations and a formal end to Syria’s diplomatic isolation since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, for which Syria is widely considered responsible.

Indeed, Europe, in embracing Assad, seems to be upholding the “innocent even if proven guilty” principle in light of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s announcement last week that the Special Tribunal on the assassination could finally begin work next March 1. So far the probe into the case has implicated senior Syrian officials, and Ban claims the “impending start” of the Hague-based tribunal—four of whose eleven judges will be Lebanese—“will send a strong signal that the government of Lebanon and the United Nations remain committed to ending impunity in Lebanon.”

But the EU, as it prepares to induct Assad and his regime into partnership, isn’t impressed—and can always say it needn’t be when the Israeli prime minister has been pushing Syria since last spring as a key to peace that can be taken out of the radical, anti-Western, Iranian-led axis with a few bribes. In fact, along with murder, Syria has been getting away with a lot lately, like proliferation; the IAEA, after finding evidence that the Syrian facility bombed by Israel last year was indeed a nuclear reactor, voted last week to give Syria—aid in building a nuclear reactor.

With a more realistic Israeli government likely to be elected in February, the main question is whether or not the incoming U.S. administration will continue the previous administration’s treatment—albeit imperfect—of Damascus as the outlaw regime that it is. If, instead, America goes in the European direction, it means the pressure and isolation will become Israel’s lot as Syria becomes the next object of Western appeasement.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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