The Obama Administration continues its rapprochement with Syria, sending two high-level envoys this month for a second round of talks.
Israel fears the latest indication of warming relations between Syria and the United States. Diplomatic commentator Shimon Shiffer, writing for Israel’s largest daily, quoted a senior Jerusalem diplomatic figure as saying, “What’s going on here? The Syrians are providing no reasons that could justify the rush of emissaries to visit Damascus. The Syrian regime continues its involvement in Iraq and enables terrorists to cross the border and carry out attacks against the U.S. Army. The Syrians also bribe anything that moves in Lebanon in order to affect the election results there.”
Syrian Ambassador in US: "We are so proud of supporting Hamas and Hizbullah…"
Despite this, the new U.S. government is anxious to weaken Syria’s alliance with Iran, tighten the Syrian border with Iraq, and fuel the stalling Syrian-Israeli negotiations. Syria, for its part, hopes the diplomatic thaw signifies an end to, or easing of, the trade sanctions against Syria that were enacted by the Bush administration. “The sanctions were aimed at curbing Damascus's support for militant groups operating in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The two American envoys traveling to Syria are acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro. This will be their second trip to Damascus in less than two months.
Netanyahu to U.S.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Washington in two weeks’ time. He plans to present a detailed Israeli strategy for regional peace when he meets with Pres. Barack Obama, stipulating Israel’s order of priorities: The Iranian nuclear threat first, followed by the Palestinian Authority track, and Syria-Lebanon in third place.
More Strength for Hizbullah
The American outreach attempt follows by just a few days the release in Beirut of four Lebanese generals detained in connection with the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The release, ordered by a United Nations court, was welcomed with joy and celebration by Hizbullah and Syria's political allies inside Lebanon.
Syria Proud of Support for Hamas and Hizbullah
Syria's Ambassador in Washington, Imad Moustapha, recently praised the Obama administration for taking a different approach to his country than that of George W. Bush. He noted that the U.S. has stopped constantly demanding that Syria sever ties with Iran and throw out Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal from his safe haven in Damascus.
Moustapha gave Israel reason for concern when he criticized its new Netanyahu government as being of the “extreme right-wing” and not interested in peace, and that pro-Israel Washington lobbies are a "major obstacle" in peace efforts. "The United States' policy in the Middle East is usually dictated by Israel's interests and not the United States' interests," said the Syrian ambassador. “We are so proud of supporting Hamas and Hizbullah… I think it's the duty of every country in the world, including the United States, to support Hamas."
Moustapha repeated his ideas in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, playing down the idea of Syria distancing itself from Iran, as the U.S. and Israel want. "We don't see any reason for this,” he said. “Syria is a sovereign state. Iran is a friendly sovereign state."