Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spinning On An Axis

Michael Tomasky is concerned about developments in the Middle East, and not without cause:
The news broke two days ago across the region about Syria supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles. Syria denies but it seems to be true, and if true it raises the stakes there considerably, because Scuds have a longer range than anything Hezbollah is now assumed to have. What that statement really means, boiled down to its essence, is that they can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The issue thus becoming, will Israel attack Lebanon to try to eliminate the Scuds, effectively proving that Hezbollah with Scuds is no more capable of deterring an attack than was Hezbollah without Scuds? In which case, what's the point of the Scuds?
With regard to Syria, the administration's attempted engagement with Assad has so far been one of its genuine failures. If US overtures to the country are met with responses like this, they're pretty clearly not working. And it gives Syria more influence in Lebanon, which breaks explicit promises Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton made in early visits to Beirut. The poor Lebanese are used to this, alas, and their country typically bears the brunt of these failures -- a war will likely scar its landscape more than Israel's or Syria's.
In fairness to the President, the well was poisoned before he got there. We can imagine alternative histories in which one of Israel's past Prime Ministers sprouted a backbone, stood up to the settlers and negotiated a resolution of the conflict with Syria. We can similarly imagine worlds in which the U.S. embraced the death of Hafez al-Assad as an opportunity to inspire his son, Bashar, to turn away from Iran and embrace modernity. Unfortunately instead we got Bush's foreign policy ineptitude, quickly followed by "Axis of Evil" rhetoric that contributed to Bashar's rejection of sensible measure would have been Syria's best option, using 9/11 as an opportunity to break with its past, negotiate the resolution of its conflict with Israel, and inviting western aid and development.

Tomasky points to Simon Tisdall's theories about why Syria might be interested in giving Scuds to Hezbollah... insurance against another Israeli attack, disappointment that President Obama hasn't "rebooted" the peace process (especially in relation to the Golan Heights), closer collaboration with Hezbollah as part of an effort to re-establish Syrian influence in Lebanon, and highlighting the double standard that Israel can have a huge nuclear arsenal, and for that matter a gargantuan arsenal of conventional arms, rockets and missiles, while most its neighbors are expected to have no appreciable offensive or defensive capacity. But I think he's focusing on the wrong country.

I can't imagine Syria exporting Scuds to Lebanon without the blessing of Iran. This suggests that Iran wants to increase the deterrent effect of attacks from Lebanon that might follow an Israeli attack on Iran, something Israel's been threatening for years. And while it makes little sense for Syria to draw itself into another war in Lebanon, Iran may look at the Israeli invasion and occupation of that nation as "the good old days" - with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel again occupying Lebanon, Iran's need to worry about any concerted military action against its territory will plummet. No doubt other people lose, but from the perspective of Iran the consequences for Lebanon do not appear to be a concern - whether the Scuds increase deterrence or lure Israel into a costly war and occupation, it seems like a win for the mullahs.

Tomasky also links to Blake Hounshell's aptly named article, The dumbest country in the Middle East. With all due respect to Tisdall's speculation on how Syria might benefit from Scuds in Lebanon, Hounshell's perspective seems more accurate to me. The best outcome for Syria in an armed conflict with Israel is that it only gets its nose bloodied. Hounshell speculates that the pressure for the deal is coming from Iran, "to show the West that any strike on its nuclear facilities would be extremely costly for the United States and its allies." Yeah, but what a way to treat those allies.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps I should have titled this one, "Syria's useless idiot is Iran's useful idiot"? Or "Bashing Bashar"?

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