The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Sub Prime Middle East

In January Jeha concluded that regardless of how much President Sarkozy values his investment in Bashar Assad, the last French envoy to the Middle East sounds "just like a stockbroker talking up some junk bond". That was after the presidential envoy cheerfully informed reporters in Beirut about Syria's positive role during the last operation in Gaza.

President Assad told me he exerted his influence to ensure Hezbollah adopted a responsible attitude and showed restraint during the events in Gaza. Syria's role has been positive.

Jeha barely managed to finish his post as more sophisticated junk traders rushed into the region armed with techniques borrowed from the US sub prime market. The British happened to be in particular innovative. The British sliced the Hezbollah-Iran axis into several CDO like tranches by declaring willingness to open direct talks with what they called Hezbollah's political wing. For all practical purposes Hezbollah has no political and military wings and it stands out among other similar movements by the virtue of its overcentralized nature with the whole movement in its turn being totally beholden to the Shiite higher priesthood in Tehran. Shiites generally tend to do much better than Sunnis both with hierarchy and mass mobilizations. This should be undoubtedly a by-product of the more structured and organized character of their branch of Islam.

Nasrallah and Khamenei

It's not for nothing that many Lebanese consider Hezbollah and its Shiites Iranian proxies in their country. If anything, the British should talk to Ali Khamenei himself, he is the one who decides. In short, the British succeeded to find plurality where there is none, and when the sub prime nature of their assets becomes evident, this junk will crash just as the other junk stuff was doing during the US sub prime crisis.

Anyway, the subject of this post is Syria and in this sense I would like to consider the point Midi was making in the comments section of another post:

Michael.di said...

So why do "some" politicians want to give them the Golan heights? It doesn't make any sense!

The truth is that Israel has got more than its share of junk traders and the Syrian option has been frequently offered to the market. In particular, recently there seems a certain consensus to have been produced that reasons that no resolution is possible that does not take into account Syria. Syria, according to this school of thought, holds the key due to its support to and the influence it has over Hamas and Hezbollah. This consensus is a culmination of the lifetime work of the best known Israeli junk traders of the past and present, including Yossi Beilin and the current president Shimon Peres.

In reality the only key that Syria holds to the region stems from its potential to destabilize its surroundings in case the Alawi regime is overthrown by Muslim Brothers. The collapse of the Alawi regime may create a huge Anbar area that will consume not only large chunks of Syria itself, but also parts of the Sunni heartland in Iraq on one side, while reaching deep into Lebanon, where the Lebanese seems to have got their own hotbed of Sunni fundamentalism in the North, on the other. On such occasion, Iraqi Kurds may become interested to reunite with their Syrian brethren and even the Alawis themselves with their back to the sea may get bent on wrestling back their homeland in Latakia to themselves, cutting the rest of the country from the Mediterranean and recreating the short lived Alawite state of the French era.

This destructive potential of Syria has been magnified by American experiments with bringing democracy to the Arab world in Iraq. Martin Kramer once very aptly described US achievements in Iraq as having unhinged the country. However, it would be even more accurate to say that the US Iraqi campaign has unhinged the entire region in a radius of hundreds of kilometers around Iraq with Sunni Shiite tensions raging from Pakistan to the Gulf and even in some parts of the Arab world where there are no Shiites at all, not to mention the new Arab Persian cold war.

The fundamental fact about Syria is that this country seems hardly able to afford any normalization with Israel due to its problematic sectarian composition. This is a minority regime in which Alawis and allied minorities preside over a Sunni majority comprised of Arabs and the heavily oppressed Syrian Kurds. The regime has survived for so long through a combination of ruthless oppression and constant galvanizing of masses into a state of permanent "anti colonial" resistance. Constant hostility and tensions with neighbors is the oxygen of this regime. Even if the regime has some keys, it will not volunteer them to open any door. And even if a slim probability of this happening exists, one should be quite insane to want to put the true Syrian intentions to test by giving up on the Golan heights. Let alone that all economic and other data points to one thing only - this is going to be the most unstable and short lived accord ever struck between Israel and an Arab state.

Finally, as far as the West Bank and Palestinians are concerned, Israel does not need Syria to pull the bulk of its settlements back which is a mega issue of all issues. All that's needed is to negotiate an intermediate agreement bypassing the refugees issue and even the area around Jerusalem. Such an agreement about basic outline of the borders may not even require the army going back. The army can be negotiated to stay til the next stage if this stage is going to happen at all. Anyway, what was missing until now is a political will to resolve the settlements issue. And if the will is missing, then Syria won't help. Giving up on the Golan heights in order to be allowed to give up on the West Bank sounds just as bizarre as it really is.

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