Look who came to dinner – Syria, Iran and Hezbollah
There was a certain symbolism in the recent dinner in Damascus between Sheikh Nasrallah. Leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad . The US has been frantically trying to reverse the mishandling of diplomatic relations with Syria and peel them away from support of Iran and Hezbollah. That attempt seems to have failed at least initially. This was a rare public appearance for Nasrallah. He is under an Israeli death threat and usually only makes televised appearances from secret locations. This was a case of Syria thumbing its nose at the West and making both Iran and Hezbollah welcome. One has to second guess that Syria is either not satisfied with the terms offered for rapprochement with the US or is still angry about the aggressive threats made against it recently by the Israeli Foreign Minister.
We did speculate previously that the seemingly warmer USD-Syrian relations might be diplomatic kabuki theater rather than a real initiative to expand the regional ‘coalition’. Syria expert Josh Landis at least is still suspicious of the maneuverings, and the important issue for Syrian pride still remains the Golan Heights
Syrian officials have been led to understand that the return of a US ambassador is linked to Mitchell’s interest in jump starting the Syrian track of the peace process now that the Palestinian track has gone cold. The Syrians welcome the return of an Ambassador, which they have been pushing for for years. All the same, they fear that the Obama administration is interested in the Syrian track for purely strategic reasons. They worry that it is a gimmick and that Washington has no genuine faith that it can actually bring the process to a conclusion – certainly not one that satisfies Syria’s key request that the Golan be returned. After witnessing Obama’s Palestinian policy collapse and the Obama’s retreat from pressuring Israel on settlements, Syrian authorities are skeptical that Mitchell will have any more luck delivering on the Golan.
Given the high stakes, the Hasrallah, Ahmadinejad and al-Assasd public appearance is a backward step in the US dance for rapprochement with Damascus. This is another salvo in this dedicated diplomatic dialog. Damascus still seems to think there is a need for the US to demonstrate that it trusts Syria and is sincere about bringing them in from the cold. The way to lever Damascus away from Tehran and bind them into the regional moderate powers is to bind them through closer relationships. It seems this relationship still has quite a way to go.
The head of the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has made a rare public appearance in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Sheikh Nasrallah attended a dinner with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He is under an Israeli death threat and makes very few appearances in public. When he addresses Hezbollah, he does so by video from a secret location.
Both Syria and Iran provide the group with financial and military support.
Hezbollah fought a 33-day war with Israel in 2006 during which more than 1,200 Lebanese people, mostly civilians, were killed. Some 160 Israeli people, most of whom were soldiers, also died.
In November, Sheikh Nasrallah vowed to boost the capacity of its military wing and threatened to retaliate if Israel attacked Lebanon.
Since 2006, the Hezbollah leader has made few public appearances in Lebanon, even avoiding key religious and political occasions.
His fear of an assassination attempt has been particularly heightened since February 2008, when the commander of his group’s military wing, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus.
Hezbollah blamed Israel for the attack, but it denied any involvement.
Before Thursday’s dinner, Sheikh Nasrallah and President Ahmadinejad discussed “the latest developments in the region, and Zionist threats against Lebanon and Syria”, Hezbollah’s al-Manar television reported.
“If the Zionist regime decides to repeat its past mistakes, the region will finish it off,” al-Manar quoted the Iranian leader as saying.
After bilateral talks on Thursday, President Assad said Syria and Iran were working together to confront “Israeli terrorism”.
Both leaders dismissed US calls for Syria to distance itself from Iran, emphasising their “deep and brotherly” ties.