Is Syria an Ally or Adversary of Radical Sunni Movements?

[Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs] Eyal Zisser - Bashar al-Assad is not respected or feared as was his father. People accept him in Syria not because of his character or his charisma - which is nonexistent - but because the average Syrian citizen sees no alternative. Syria displays a bunker mentality. It sees itself as a small country, constantly under attack by foreigners and by neighboring countries, always the target of a conspiracy, like Cuba or North Korea, which have a similar bunker mentality. American-Syrian relations were destroyed because of mistakes made by Bashar al-Assad. He destroyed Syria's close relations with the European Union, especially with France. He also destroyed the delicate relations his father built with the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and the Saudis. His father was smart enough to create this web of alliances that balanced each other. This doesn't exist anymore. There is a debate in America about whether the U.S. should engage in a dialogue with Syria, but what Bashar wants from America is full capitulation, a total American withdrawal from Iraq. Bashar is not happy about the prospects for the emergence of a pro-Western regime in Iraq. There is also nothing to discuss with Bashar about Lebanon unless the Americans are ready to give Lebanon back to the Syrians. We should be very realistic about what we can get from Syria. Syria is not about to become a close ally of the United States and part of what we call the moderate camp in the region. Syria is not Egypt, which is a big country with a long history and tradition, and which feels secure and sure of itself. This is why in the long run we can only get something very limited from Syria. Prof. Eyal Zisser, a leading expert on Syria, is the Head of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History and the Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.

2007-12-03 01:00:00

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