All of the region’s concerned parties want to keep Damascus out of efforts to put pressure on Israel and Hezbullah. For a number of different reasons, the governments involved don’t want the open battlefield to extend beyond the Lebanese border.
Even when President Bush said a few days ago that Syria must pay a price, he never said the price would be a military one. In Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf, in spite of differences with the Syrian government and in spite of suspicions that the Syrians had a role in pushing Hezbollah to get involved with Israel, these governments don’t want this war to reach Damascus.
WHY INVADE DAMASCUS?
Lebanon is a country without a strong and reliable central government, and at the same time, it is impossible to control the actions of the various parties on the ground [such as Hezbullah]. As for Syria, on the other hand, there is a well-settled political system which would be undermined by a military attack, and which could lead to a situation that could spin out of Damascus’ control. It is this likelihood of chaos that so frightens countries throughout the region. No one wants to see another Iraq or another regime come tumbling down.
One Arab official said: “We believe that the Syrian government committed serous mistakes, and continues to do so,” in an apparent reference to the fact that Syria disrupted a deal between Hamas and Israel to free the first Israeli soldier that was kidnapped. Such a deal, if it had taken place, would likely have prevented Hezbollah from kidnapping two Israeli soldiers a few days later, sparking the war now taking place in Lebanon. He also added: “In spite of all this, there is an agreement that the fire should not reach Syria, since the Lebanese people would pay dearly for any destabilization that hits Syria.”
Recently, Egypt sought to prevent a U.S. military campaign against Syria, following Washington’s accusations that Damascus was behind all of the terrorist attacks against American soldiers in Iraq and the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The countries of the region have interceded on many occasions to protect Syria from all possible attacks.
The question is: Can an angry Israel be kept away from Syria this time, especially since no one knows if Washington will look the other way?
Now there are signs that Israel might repeat its the invasion scenario that it undertook in Lebanon in 1982, but this time in Syria, taking advantage of its overwhelming military superiority. This possibility doesn’t escape Damascus, which is aware of the gravity of the situation.
According an Arab official familiar with the details of this situation, Iran is trying to drag its feet by using Syria to escalate the situation and avoid its own direct involvement. Iran is using Damascus like a chess piece to manipulate a regional conflict. Tehran is in a state of conflict with the West over its growing political influence in the region and its nuclear program, and is now prepared to move the crisis to the level of direct confrontation.
If such an open confrontation does take place, Iran knows that it has little to lose, being a large country with a strong military, and with an established political system and lots of oil in high demand.
Syria’s situation is different, situated as it is between the hammer of American and anvil of Israeli, with a broken-down economy and unable to cope with Israeli power on its own.
Like the person afraid of seeing a demon, the Arab official said that there has always been a fear that such a war was likely to happen, and now it looks like the present war might spin out of control.