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The Syrian Regime Is Regaining Control, but Tenuously

Since 2015, Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Russia and Iran, has turned the tide in his country’s civil war and is restoring his regime’s control over a gradually expanding territory. Jonathan Spyer, having returned from a press tour of Damascus and other cities now ruled by the Syrian government, reports:

The [Syrian] regime in its self-presentation openly resembles the totalitarian governments of mid-20th century Europe. [It thus] holds an ugly fascination for some Europeans and other Westerners. But its posturing and rhetoric are mostly without weight, like a cheap tin pendant that only from a distance resembles solid metal. Holding up this fragile structure are a variety of other forces more deserving of attention.

On our last night in the city, a member of the [press] delegation was threatened at gunpoint by a drunken Russian journalist. The authorities in the area said they could do nothing, because the man was Russian. This small episode says more about the true state of affairs in government-controlled Syria than all the regime’s verbiage. The Assad regime’s servants do not enjoy unquestioned sovereignty even in their own capital. The regime is today largely a hollow structure. The vigorous regional ambitions of Iran and Russia, and the smaller but no less notable intentions of a vast variety of pro-regime militia commanders, must be factored into any assessment of regime capabilities and intentions.

The closeness of the Sunni Arab rebels to the regime’s urban centers and the absence of Assad’s power from almost the entirety of the country’s east are further testimony to the erosion of the regime. It is a very long way from the days when [Bashar’s father] Hafez al-Assad ran Syria as his “private farm,” as a Syrian Kurdish friend of mine once put it. The Assad regime cannot be destroyed for as long as Moscow and Teheran find a reason to underwrite its existence. But the mortar shells landing in Damascus in close succession are an unmistakable testimony to its reduced and truncated state. The anachronistic rhetoric of its officials and its supporters does not succeed in disguising this reality. Assad is wearing a hollow crown.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

 

In Pursuing Peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Demand Reciprocity and Keep the Palestinian Question off the Table

Nov. 22 2017

The recent, unprecedented interview given by the IDF chief of staff to a major Arabic news outlet has fed the growing enthusiasm in Israel about the prospects of a peace treaty and mutual recognition between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Mordechai Kedar urges level heads and caution, and puts forward ten principles that should guide any negotiations. Most importantly, he argues that the two countries normalize relations before coming to any agreements about the Palestinians. To this he adds:

The most basic rule in dealing with the Saudis and their friends is that Israel must not feel that it has to pay anything for peace. . . . If the Saudis want to live in peace with us, we will stretch out our hands to offer them peace in return. But that is all they will get. Israel [has] been a state for 70 years without peace with Saudi Arabia and can continue being a state for another 7,000 years without it. Any desire for a quick peace (as expressed in the disastrous slogan “Peace Now”) will raise the price of that peace. . . .

[As part of any agreement], Israel will recognize the House of Saud’s rule in Mecca and Medina—even though the family does not originate from the Hejaz [where the holy cities are located] but from the Najd highland—in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel’s right to Jerusalem as its historic and eternal capital city. Israel will recognize Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or a state belonging to the Jewish people. . . .

Israel will not allow incitement against Saudi Arabia in its media. In return, the Saudis will not allow anti-Israel incitement in Saudi media. . . .

It is important to keep the Americans and Europeans away from the negotiating table, since they will not be party to the agreement and will not have to suffer the results of its not being honored—and since their interests are not necessarily those of Israel, especially when it comes to the speed at which the negotiations move forward. The Americans want to cut a deal, even a bad deal, and if they are allowed into the negotiation rooms, they will pressure Israel to give in, mainly on the Palestinian issue.

Read more at Israel National News

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia