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Bashar al-Assad is having the best week ever

Bashar al-Assad, the lisping former opthamologist who rules Syria with an iron fist, has got to be enjoying himself these days. First, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her interest in seeing the Turkish-mediated, indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria succeed. Next, two U.S. officials, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security ...

Bashar al-Assad, the lisping former opthamologist who rules Syria with an iron fist, has got to be enjoying himself these days.

First, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her interest in seeing the Turkish-mediated, indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria succeed. Next, two U.S. officials, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro, visited Damascus last week to open a dialogue with the Syrian regime after year of isolation. On Tuesday, Syria opened its first stock market. Then, the Saudis hosted a mini-summit in Riyadh Wednesday with the thinly veiled aim of enticing the Syrians away from Iran.

It seems like everyone is intent on wooing Damascus.

Everyone, that is, except Israel. Turns out the incoming Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t so hot on the Syria track:

Benjamin Netanyahu will likely shelve recently revived Israeli peace talks with Syria given its territorial demands and alliance with Iran, a senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister-designate said on Thursday. Uzi Arad helped Netanyahu when he was premier in 1996-1999 to craft indirect contacts with Damascus and is widely considered to be his choice for national security adviser.

He suggested Israel’s new regional priorities may make negotiating with the Palestinians a more viable prospect than Syrian talks.

I’m going to have to throw the BS flag here. More likely, the very fact that the Syria track is becoming increasingly viable is what makes Netanyahu and other Israeli hardliners nervous — they don’t want a deal because they simply don’t want to give up the Golan Heights. They’re ideologues, but they’re not naive: There’s no way they think the Palestinian track is going anywhere right now.

You can tell that Arad is being disingenuous from this bit of flim-flammery:

Western interest in advancing Israeli-Arab peace could best be served by curbing Iran’s nuclear programme, he argued.

Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has endorsed U.S.-led efforts to use sanctions to get Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can produce bombs though the Iranians deny having any such intent. "The more Iran becomes strong, the closer it gets to nuclear weapons, the more terrified the moderates in the Arab world and the Palestinian people become, and the more emboldened the radicals and the extremists are," Arad said. "So whichever way you look at it the order of priority is: blunt Iran first, move vigorously on peace after, and based on that. Should you act in the wrong order…you will have a sterile, perhaps failed process with the Palestinians and at the same time you will end up with a nuclear Iran."

Remember when the argument was that Saddam had to go before any progress could be made on Israeli-Palestinian peace? How’s that working out?

The bottom line: It’s a real shame that just as the United States is finally putting together a smart diplomatic strategy for the region, its supposed best friend is gearing up to ensure that America fails.

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