In only three month the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell made two visits to Damascus prompting the world attention to the new place of Syria in the region. What is the new role of Syria in Barrack Obama vision of peace for the Middle East?
Syria: an astonishing survival.
In 2003 Syria seemed to be on the brink of the abyss: a US lead invasion of Iraq has turn up side down the region, G. Bush placed Syria on the list of state to be attacked , in Lebanon US sponsored the anti-Syrian opposition in the hope that will further isolate Syria. The death of Hafez al Assad in 2000 and the ascension to power of a young leader, Bashar al Assad made the situation even more fragile. In this difficult climate of isolation, war in Iraq, US pressures and sanctions , Syria succeeded a remarkable transformation.
First step was made by bringing to power a generation of very effective , western educated leaders that transformed the country in just a few years: Dr.Mohsen Bilal, a very efficient minister of information that transformed the media landscape of the country offering open gates policy to private newspapers and media channels ,Wallid Al Moallem, Foreign Affairs Minister of Syria succeed in promoting a new image of his country tacking Syria out of the isolation , Dr. Faissal Mqdad, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs supported this active and efficient diplomacy transforming Syria in a diplomatic Mecca in the last five years supported in this efforts by professional diplomats like Walid Othman and other dedicated diplomats and the charismatic Mr. Saadala Agaa, Minister of Tourism, that made Syria a touristic power in the region busting countries revenues from tourism . This new team brought to power by President Bashar al Assad succeeded simultaneous in disengaging Syria from Lebanon, restoring diplomatic ties with Lebanon, sheltering 1, 5 million refugees from Iraq (a humanitarian crisis of never viewed scale), creating economic development of 5% percent per year, closing the border to Iraq for terrorist group and having an effective diplomacy in the region and developing connection with European Union. This mixture of powerful diplomacy, open society and strong democracy made Syria a key for peace in the region. The assessment of first nine year of Bashar al Assad in power is a strong positive one.
No peace without Syria.
An Arab diplomatic wisdom is saying that in Middle East could not be a war without Egypt and peace without Syria. The latest years offers a new meaning to this word of wisdom. Syria has proven to be a force for peace in the region and a fundamental actor: supporting Hezbollah in his resistance made Syria a part of the reconstruction of Lebanon security and peace and in may 2009 election when Hezbollah lost the Lebanese elections Syria supported the peaceful recognition of the election results and the creation of a unity government. Also the Syrian diplomatic campaign for Golan was a new success, even US announcing that Israel must relinquish the Golan Heights to rightful owner: Syria, in the peace processes. The open relation with Turkey, accepting Turkey mediation with Israel and the worming relation with Iraq and Golf States transformed Syria in the diplomatic rally point for France ( N. Sarcozy visit Damascus in 2008 , Bernard Kouchner , French foreign minister in 2008 and 2009) or for Qatar diplomacy. Even in 2008 Bashar al Assad was invited for 14 July celebration in France, an honor that only few have.
Visit in Damascus for the eyes of Tel Aviv.
The US diplomatic overture to Syria is destined no doubt to exercise pressure on Israel. The US-Israel relation are suffering from a diplomatic cold after the Barrack Obama speech in Cairo and US decision to pressure Israel for a halt in settlements construction and to re-open dialogue with Palestinian Authority. Until now Israeli government choose to ignore the joint US-European Union- Russia pressure for a sincere dialogue with Palestine Authority and for halting the settlements in territories occupied after 1967 war. The US decision to send a new ambassador in Damascus and European Union rapprochement with Syria, all indicate that Israel could not hope indefinitely to go against international community wishes.
Now G. Mitchell goes to Damascus with a solid agenda: peace talks, returning Golan Heights to Syria, Damascus aid in stabilizing Iraq, removing Syria from US black list etc. Especially Washington is interested in having Syrian backing for a swift resolution of Iraq conflict to relinquish the US troops station there. US are conscience that after the US army pull back Iraq will descend in anarchy and havoc. US are trying to support a second way: a Syrian model of open society, secular state, political equilibrium that will satisfy also Kurdish autonomy ambition and Sunni worries over a Shia controlled Iraq. This Syrian model in Iraq depends on Damascus support and is a valuable asset in US- Syria negotiation. G. Mitchell is now in Damascus and already announced that what will be back.
Now the question is if US has embarked only in a charmed offensive to worry Israel or really G. Mitchell found on the road to Damascus the light of a new policy for the region?