Friday, September 01, 2006

Will the Cease Fire Hold? Syria and Iran

Syrian and Iranian compliance with the arms embargo under Resolution 1701 are vital for sustaining the cease fire. Syria’s President Bashir Asad may be coming around to the idea that his country’s compliance could win it some points (or carrots). Last week he said the deployment of UNIFIL troops along the Lebanese-Syrian border to enforce the embargo would be a hostile act. Shortly thereafter, the Itallian Foreign Minister said the embargo would be enforced by some means. Today, after Asad met with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, his government said he had promised to stop any shipments across the border. Furthermore, Syria would be prepared to give full diplomatic recognition to Lebanon. That move would reverse Syria’s long time insistence that, at least in theory, Lebanon is part of Syria, and thereby void any justification of its arming Hizbullah as, say, an auxiliary to its own military forces.

Some Lebanese and Israel were unimpressed. Today, Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druse Party and an outspoken opponent of Syria, claimed that last Saturday night (August 26) Syria shipped arms to Hizbullah with the connivance of Lebanese customs officials. The Israel Defense Ministry said that yesterday it showed Annan proof of continuing Syrian shipments. The government official added that based on Syria’s recent behavior, Asad’s promise is not credible. Instead UNIFIL should patrol the border. Nevertheless, they demanded that Syria use its influence on Hizbullah and Hamas to expedite the release of the captured Israeli soldiers. The Israel government is under tremendous pressures from its public to get the soldiers back. Syrian help in that matter could let the government take more of a wait-and-see attitude regarding Syrian compliance on the arms embargo.

At this time, however, Syria’s public commitment is the best that the other interested parties to the cease fire have. The Lebanese government has stated that it will not allow UNIFIL to deploy along the Syrian border.

Annan this Saturday (September 2) will be in Tehran and intends to bring up the arms embargo with Iranian officials. Iran’s current position is that it gives Hizbullah political, economic and moral support, but no arms. That position of course did not stop Hizbulah's using Iranian made weapons in the recent war. Iran obviously has a larger issue to haggle over with Annan and the UN Security Council, namely its refusal to stop its uranium enrichment program and the possibility of sanctions. So it might publicly commit to the arms embargo to gain some negotiating capital. It only needs to promise to stop what it says it does not do.


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