Syrian President Bashar Assad announced on Thursday that his country would not participate in the Middle East peace conference in Annapolis next month, Army Radio reported.
Speaking to Tunisian media, Assad said the conference had no chance of achieving Syria’s goals.
No clearer indication of his intentions could have been given. While dictator Assad would not be averse to taking possession of the Golan, there are reasons that he prefers to keep the conflict with Israel boiling. As I wrote yesterday,
Syria could have had the Golan heights in return for a peace agreement at multiple times since 1999. They have never chosen this path, because the continued conflict with Israel has more important to the Assad regimes (first Hafez and now his son Bashar) as a tool to keep internal reformers at bay and maintain influence over Lebanon than possession of the Golan (see Lee Harris’ review of Barry Rubin’s “The Truth About Syria” for an in-depth discussion of Syrian motives).
In the framework of a Mideast summit as is being organized by the US, it is likely that issues relating to Syrian interference in Lebanon and Iraq would come up, both isssues that Assad wishes to avoid.
Assad would prefer to continue to threaten war with Israel, rattle his chemical-warhead tipped missiles, supply Hezbollah and Hamas, and support Iraqi insurgents — all the while repressing dissent at home.
What are “Syria’s goals” that Assad thinks could not be met by attending the summit? Actually, the goals in question are not really Syria’s, they are Bashar Assad’s. Peace with Israel could be a boost to Syria’s economy and could open the door to much-needed political and economic reforms.
Assad, on the other hand, cares little about the economic well-being of Syrians — in fact, he prefers a poor economy in order to keep middle-class merchants, his reformist opposition, at bay. What is important to him is staying in power, maintaining influence in Lebanon, and continuing to receive weapons and aid from Iran for his ‘work’ with Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iraqi insurgency.
From Israel’s point of view, Assad’s non-participation may be a good thing. Since it appears that he is implacably hostile, better to face him with the IDF in the Golan Heights than not.