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By Micah Halpern

Thursday May 1, 2008


Right means left. Up means down. Yes means no.

That's the Middle East for you.

The best way to understand the play book of the Middle East is to think of a game of opposites. You mean one thing, you say another. You want something specific, you do everything in your power not to have it happen. The cardinal rule of the Middle East goes like this: nothing should ever be taken at face value. Everything should be seen for its superficial meaning.

Take these past few days, for example.

First came rumors:
The Region was rife with rumors about discussions about negotiations about sending back and forth messages about peace between Israel and Syria. The scuttlebutt had it that Israel was willing to cede the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria.

Then came a news report:
The story was first published in a newspaper from Qatar. According to that report Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad intimating that the door to negotiations is open. The idea was that if Assad stepped over the threshold and if a peace accord was hammered out, Syria's reward for agreeing to peace with a neighboring country would be sweetened by that neighboring country's good and wealthy friend, the United States of America.

On the surface, it all looks legitimate.

It looks as if, finally, Israel and Syria are getting closer to negotiating than they have since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. But remember, this is the Middle East. Remember, think opposites. Remember, nothing should be taken at face value.

Finally, came confirmation:
Al Manar, Hezbollah satellite TV, interviewed Samir Taqi, the Syrian ambassador to Turkey and the diplomat responsible for delivering the message from Olmert to Assad.

And then clarification:
The real reason behind the move towards negotiations became clear. And I quote: "It is naive to think Syria would behave foolishly and abandon its strategic alliances with Iran and Hezbollah, which are not limited solely to the Israeli-Arab conflict but also touch on topical geopolitical issues. These strategic associations are for the long term." Taqi continued by explaining that Syrian has no plans for bailing out on Iran and Hezbollah. The real reason for any interest that was shown toward Israel is to stake a more significant Syrian claim on the Golan Heights.

Aha! Now we all get it.

To say the least, Iran became very nervous when Israel made overtures to Syria. Iran knows that if Syria falls into a peace accord with Israel that means that Syria will have been poached from their side of the hostilities and brought over onto the side of the Western infidel, the United States.

Syria knows that Iran needs to be placated, that Iranian concerns need to be soothed. Syria knows that Iran needs to know that all is well, that nothing has changed, that this really is the Middle East game being played.

So Syria sent its ambassador out onto the Shiite airwaves of Hezbollah TV to explain what should have been obvious to Iran and to all Middle East watchers, analyzers and players from the outset. And then Taqi took it a step further. Taqi explained that accepting overtures from the Israelis and accepting an invitation from the White House to attend the Annapolis Conference were one and the same.

Syria is not interested in peace, Syria is interested in getting the Golan back and Syria is interested in destroying Israel.

What stymies me is not that Syria took a great offer and threw it right back in the diplomatic face of Israel. Why stymies me is that serious, seasoned, world leaders actually thought that Syria would go for a deal.

Okay, so Jimmy Carter didn't get it. I expect nothing more of him. But significant players in the Israeli government - including the prime minister, allowed themselves to be duped by the Syrians - much as the Iranians were. This was not new behavior for the Syrians, they were playing by the old rules, not making up new rules. What happened?

If the Golan Height is given to the Syrians today, Iran and Hezbollah will be there tomorrow. I cringe to think about what those two haters of Israel would do with such an unbelievable vantage.

You know who got it?

You know who reacted only tepidly, very tepidly, to the entire advance toward negotiations episode - the United States, that's who. The United States does not trust Syria. As much as the United States wants there to be peace in the Middle East, the United States does not trust Syria to deliver on any bargain.

So the big winner in this game is the United States. Thankfully, this time around, there were no big losers.

Game's over.

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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