By way of introduction, I note that what counts in Syria is Hafiz al-Asad's control of power; he and the ruling Alawite minority of Syria sees almost everything through this prism. I surmise that Asad sees a deal with Israel as jeopardizing his grip on power because it would open his country up to outside influences and thus challenge his totalitarian rule. Elements within Syrian society would be hammering for their say, voices for political participation would be heard, and human rights groups would emerge. I therefore predict that there will be no treaty between Syria and Israel.
Should I be wrong, however, and such a treaty does materialize, it would not be in the interest of the United States. The U.S. government should not endorse such a treaty, and least of all should it support it financially. From an American vantagepoint, I worry about the Syrian-Israeli negotiations for three main reasons:
- I do not believe that the negotiations will bring about real peace;
- Asad does not keep his word; and
- a treaty would bolster a failing Asad regime.
Not real peace. Syria-Israel talks will not achieve real peace. The Syrian government has not changed its deep and wide bellicosity towards Israel in any meaningful way. The frigid reception that Barak received from his negotiating counterpart, Syrian foreign minister Faruq ash-Shar`a, was symbolic of the Syrian governments profound reluctance to deal with Israel. Rather than trying to make peace, I see the Syrian government using the negotiations as a mechanism to court the West. Asad wants to end, or at least dampen, Washington's opposition to his regime. He ultimately hopes for decent relations between Damascus and Washington, which will prop up his regime; he shows no interest at all in a truly changed, harmonious relationship with Israel.
Asad untrustworthy. Like other totalitarian rulers, Asad is not a ruler who keeps his word. Having dominated his country for thirty years, he does what he likes, both in domestic and foreign affairs. A treaty with him is worth about as much as one with Hitler, Brezhnev, or Saddam Husayn; he will not abide by promises or signed treaties. As a matter of fact, his regime has failed to abide by treaties in many cases through the years, including ones signed with Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon. Syria has fulfilled these treaties when this was convenient and ignored them when not. Hence, any document eventually signed by Israel and Syria would be binding on the Israeli side and voluntary on the Syrian side.
Bolstering the Asad regime. The extent of the failure of the Syrian State is extraordinary. Judging by such indices as paved roads, literacy, health care, and other indicators, Syria's economy is at the very bottom internationally. Worse, it is in free fall, without any positive signs. It compares to that of a failed African state. A Syrian-Israeli treaty is likely to lead the United States to provide aid and smoothed the way for Syria to join world markets, thereby acting as the sponsor of a failing totalitarian regime that continues to sponsor international terrorism, build weapons of mass destruction, and host Nazi criminals. This contrasts with the usual U.S. policy toward rogue states. When it comes to Cuba, North Korea, Libya, and Iraq, we try to squeeze the regimes by impoverishing them economically and weakening them militarily. The goal is at minimum to reduce their threat and at most to bring about a change of regime. Strangely, when it comes to Syria (and also, to an extent, the Palestinian Authority), Washington takes the opposite approach, of trying to enfranchise dictatorships.