Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Betting on the Assads

Can the Assads still deliver any goods in Lebanon? Can they help reign in Hezbollah? Can they really afford to turn against it, to betray it, and Iran, at this stage seeing that they played a very active role in all but canonizing Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasarllah, and Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Will there be no consequences to suffer on their behalf should they switch off the nationalist rhetoric and begin sounding a more US-friendly tone having taken such an active part in whipping up anti-US sentiments in their country and across the region in the first place? Can they afford to join the ranks of those Arab regimes, deemed cowardly and traitorous by the Arab Street, especially the Syrian Street, at a time when their sole claim to legitimacy in the country seems to rest on the adhering to certain “national constants” that will make settling for anything less than the Perfect Deal akin to suicide?

For indeed, the search for the Perfect Deal, one that includes the return of the Golan in its entirety and lays no conditions on Syria’s involvement in Lebanon or its internal developments and conditions, was the object of obsession for the Assads for all their years in power. Indeed, they almost got that deal with Rabin, and again Barak, but almost is the watch word here. For almost is not enough, and almost was also something that could only be given to the likes of Hafiz al-Assad. His pale avatar, Bashar, does not qualify. But then, don’t ask me, ask President Chirac who, up until recently, was on speaking terms with Bashar until the latter turned his back on him. This is how Chirac puts it:

"Referring to the Syrian president, Chirac said: "There was a time when I spoke to Bashar al-Assad. I spoke to his father. To hide nothing from you, this dialogue came to an end. It was he who wanted it.”
President Chirac also added that the kind of regime embodied by Assad cannot be interested in peace and security in the region.

And yet, there are indeed those who are still willing to bet on Bashar, including some Israeli figures, most recently Edward Luttwak, who want him to get them out of a potential mess in Lebanon. But, those who bet on morons are even greater morons. And those who think Syrian troops will be able to set the Lebanese house in order again or that they will be welcomed back by anyone, are beyond any hope.

For having an extensive experience in destroying and pillaging a country does not necessarily give you any insight on how to put it back together again. Moreover, there will be enough opposition across the sectarian and social spectrum in Lebanon to any direct dabbling by Syria in Lebanese affairs to render the whole new venture short and disastrous for the Syrians.

Hell, even Hezbollah would not want to go back under anyone’s mantle again. Freedom is too sweet, and being your own man, for Nasrallah, is much more prestigious and profitable.

As for the Assads, even the Perfect Deal at this stage will not be able to protect them from the consequences of betrayal.

Let's face it. The die has been cast. All actors have already made their choices. All other bets are off for now. The Israelis will have to muddle through whatever quagmire they are creating for themelves in Lebanon for a few more weeks, if not months. The Assads will have to stick to their choice of allies, or find themselves hopelessly alone and perhaps, six feet under. The time for negotiations have long passed. The Assads have long become hostage to their own allies, their own policies, their own tactics and their own avarice. They are hardly in a position to help themselves now not to mention anyone else.

Meanwhile, the Americans and the French will have to muster enough will to put together a little package that can save Israel from itself, and Lebanon from everybody else keeping it as a viable entity. They will also have to keep the Assads, for all their dabbling and penchant for trouble-making, under lock and key, or risk having another country in the Middle East blow up in their face, which might just happen no matter what anyone does anyway, as the die might have been cast in this regard as well, the smuggness of Syrian officials and analysts notwithstanding.