The Syrian Diplomacy

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hadi Mohammadifar

Is Bashar Assad a good successor for his later father Hafiz Assad?  The answer to this question depends on the performances and capabilities Bashar Assad is utilizing. Hafiz Assad was a veteran politician and had started his career from low ranks moving upwards to the highest degree in politics in Syria so that he enjoyed the support of the majority in Syria. The situation of Syria is different from other Arab states of the region due to geopolitical and geoeconomic status of the country. The country has been a vanguard of campaign against Israel and with the border lines it has with Israel, it has always taken anti-Israeli stances among Muslims and Arabs. Furthermore, it has had a serious and fruitful stance in terms of administration of state affairs and diplomacy.

Syria is a country which takes its rivals by surprise after going across a complicated diplomacy process and even harshening its words in hot debates and talks with belligerent parties and in the long run by changing its tactical stance. They were able to take the Turks by surprise at the eleventh hour in the year 1997. In that year, after escalation of war of words between Syrian and Turkish officials on Syria’s support for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the two countries went as far as war so that after the deployment of Turkish forces at Syrian borders and warnings by Turkish leaders Bulent Ecevit and Suleyman Demirel, the Syrians astounded  their rival with a tactical turn and were able to take aback all experts in international relations by expelling Abudllah Ocalan. During those years Turkey and Israel had forged broad security, intelligence and political relations and the Syrians were well aware of those conditions and the status quo.

With respect to the current developments in the region, the Syrian diplomacy has become active. Syria which was under attack by the West and especially the United States over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and lost its historical relations with Lebanon, is currently striving to take on the role of an active player. They have the successful experience that among the Arabs they were the first Arab state which did not adopt an anti-Iran stance in the eight-year war Iraq imposed on Iran and with this very successful experience they are after revision of their diplomacy and foreign policy. When reports were published on the visit to Syria of the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, foreign news agencies immediately reported the possibility of activation of the Syrian role in Lebanon. Furthermore, talks between Syrians and Israelis on retaking the occupied territories have turned into a scenario for the media to the extent that Syria was thought to be taking the course of Israel and US in the region. At the same time, there were reports on mediation of Syria in Iran’s nuclear standoff and clandestine talks between Syrian and French officials on Iran’s nuclear issues so that it was thought Syria might be taking steps towards the West. It was under such conditions that Bashar Assad showed he has inherited the political intuition of Hafiz Assad. Through his visit to Iran and meetings with the Iran’s Supreme Leader and president, he showed that he was still standing beside Iran and that playing a role in the developments in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and the Middle East without consulting and coordination with its allies was a wrong strategy.

Simultaneously, Iran’s nuclear talks and developments and the presence of US undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns in the nuclear talks, gave rise to suspicions at domestic Syrian circles that Tehran was holding talks with the US for détente. A similar situation came up in domestic Iranian circles regarding the talks between Syria and Israel. With respect to these developments, the visit to Tehran of Bashar Assad was historic and a sign of efforts to “adopt a unified strategy” and that these relations could not be manipulated by media circles. Statements made by Bashar Assad and Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), and the emphasis on three decades of joint cooperation between Iran and Syria and continuation of regional and international cooperation indicate the fact that  the two countries can attain their long-term interests by following a joint strategy.  By visiting Iran and inviting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to travel to Syria, Assad showed that he was not a puppet in the hands of the media and the country’s diplomacy has its own special principles and standards.


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