Is Syria A Major Player in the Israeli-Palestinian Talks?
Syrian leaders have expressed their support for the talks more than once, and they are expected to help the U.S. shore up these negotiations.
Since the negotiations were resumed the series of attacks on the Israeli territory from Gaza increased. Hamas promised to never acknowledge the outcome of the talks between the Israelis and Mahmoud Abbas, the ideological and political adversary of Hamas.
Furthermore, Hamas, who has been ruling Gaza since 2006, when they won democratic elections, pledged to never recognize the right to exist of the state of Israel.
The reason Mitchell is at Damascus is because Hamas its political leaders are based in Syria. He arrives in Syria after the two-day second round of negotiations conducted in the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem.
According to some American experts in Syrian politics, Mitchell is trying to prevent the spoil of talks by extremist groups. He is discussing in Damascus Palestinian issues as well.
It is considered that any prospect of Israeli-Syrian talks depends on the outcome of the talks with the Palestinian Authority. If the talks with Palestinians are not successful, there is no chance for peace between Israel and Syria.
It looks like the U.S. administration is determined to engage in multiple talks that would open more than one track of negotiation to the end of solving conflicts between more parties involved in the Middle East geo-political landscape.
Obama administration operated a change in the paradigm in force during the Bush administration, which chose to isolate Syria. Now the envoys of the White House keep a very close contact with the leaders in Damascus.
U.S. thinks that bringing Israelis to the negotiation table with the Arab neighbors could decrease the influence of Iran in the region. Iran and Syria have an alliance dating back 30 years, which was strengthened during the last American administration when the isolation imposed on Syria made it necessary for Syria to expand its trade agreements with Iran.
However, U.S. is taking it one step at the time. The relation with Syria was renewed in 2009, but the sanctions are still in place and the diplomatic ties are still to happen.
Meanwhile the U.S. is asking Syria to interfere to keep under control the organizations that could undermine the peace talks: Hamas and Iran-based Hezbollah in Lebanon.
U.S. is also concerned with the alleged nuclear program that Syria might develop in secret. Syria has not been cooperative with the international agency that monitors the nuclear programs.
While Mitchell is in Damascus to talk to Syrian President Bashir al Asad, U.S. delegate to the IAEA Glyn Davies warns that if Syria continues to oppose the talks the agency may consider invoking a special inspection and, if Syria doesn’t consent to it, to impose sanctions on it the likes of those imposed on Iran.
Syria seems to choose a strategy based on ambiguity rather than on clarity, following its own agenda. Analysts consider that if some talks with Israel would ensure the return of the Golan Heights, and a role to play in Lebanon, Syria could distance itself from Iran, thus weakening Hamas and Hezbollah, too.
“A region in talks is better than a region in war,” a Lebanese leader says.11