A government official in Jerusalem said yesterday that Syria is still not a satellite of Iran and can be extricated from an Iranian "bear-hug."
The official told Haaretz that Syria believes that Iran provides it with security but is being careful not to become a client state. Syria is said to be particularly worried that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will find it responsible for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Jerusalem reportedly believes Syria was behind the murder, and if the ICJ rules as such, Syria's diplomatic isolation will increase. Damascus is also concerned over a possible Israeli attack, and Israel has therefore signaled to the Syrians a number of times that it does not have any belligerent intentions.
"The more the American threat against Syria grows, the more calls are heard for maqawamah - violent resistence to Israel," the official said. "Then the moment will come when Syria won't be able to extricate itself from the Iranian alliance, but we still have not reached that point. They are tightening their connections to Iran because that is the best thing they have at the moment."
Jerusalem views Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus last month as a good example of Syrian concern over Israeli intentions. As opposed to Ahmadinejad, who resoundingly predicted a "hot summer" and spoke in favor of "defeats for the enemies of the region," Assad's tone was restrained and even his body language at their press conference conveyed distance, officials said.
The analysis by senior Syrian journalist Ibrahim Hamidi of a joint declaration from Assad and Ahmadinejad made at the end of Syrian-Iranian summit lends credence to this view. Writing in the London-based daily Al-Hayat Hamidi said critics of the Syrian regime argue that Syrian decisions are made in Iran. However, the declaration, he says, shows reciprocity; for example, Iran gave in to the Syrian demand to include in the document Syria's right to restore the Golan Heights to the borders of June 4, 1967. It was the first time Iran acceded to a Syrian demand in a joint document, Hamidi wrote. Western diplomats in Damascus told Al-Hayat that they wondered whether to interpret the statement as some sort of recognition of Israel by Tehran, despite Ahmadinejad's call to destroy "the Zionist entity."
Last week, the Iranian ambassador to Syria called for Iranians to invest in Syria in every possible area. One of these is energy, given the frequent electricity outages this summer in Syria, which Prime Minister Mohammed Naji al-Otari says stem from "political reasons," that is, the international isolation of Damascus.
In Israel, it is believed that if the United States changes its policy of isolating Syria and calling for the heads of the regime in Damascus, Israel might "change direction." However, while the U.S. is in contact with the Syrian opposition, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel believes that the alternatives to Assad are not necessarily better.
Rumors have been flying recently in Damascus as well as Beirut over the possibility of hostilities breaking out between Israel and Syria, despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statement last week that we can expect a "calm summer, calm autumn and calm winter." Jerusalem feels that Syria is concerned over an Israeli attack, possibly against supply convoys to Hezbollah or on a Palestinian leader like Hamas political head Khaled Meshal.
Assad presented a new peace plan last month in a speech to parliament, which included a demand for Israel to commit in writing to a withdrawal to the 1967 borders. An official in Jerusalem said this message is not necessarily "illogical" considering the willingness Israel has shown in the past to withdraw to these borders.
Jerusalem has also taken positive note of Assad's statment that the final border will be marked by representatives of the two countries. No one knows exactly where the border ran in 1967, an official said, "so there is room for flexibility here."
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