With a lot of talk of bringing Syria in “from the cold” and “thawing” of the relationship between Washington and Damascus, it is time to summarize once and for all why Syria’s attendance in the Annapolis conference is meaningless.
1- Iran Doesn’t Approve of Annapolis.
As a junior partner in the Syria-Iran axis, Syria can’t afford to provoke Iran, and Iran doesn’t like Annapolis one bit. This point was made clear after the phone call between the Iranian President Ahmedinejad and his Syrian counterpart, where both leaders declared that the the summit will fail.
2- Syria promises but doesn’t deliver
As most international envoys to Damascus have learned, the Syrian regime always combines sweet talking with negative actions. The reason is simple: The Syrian regime’s regional influence has always been based on the perception that it can restrain “extremist elements” like Hezbollah and Hamas. But the paradox is that without these elements, the world won’t have anything to ask from Syria. This is why Syria likes to sell promises, not deeds.
3- Syria’s real demand is Lebanon, not the Golan.
Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005 was a humiliation the regime hasn’t gotten over. Syrians believe the historical fallacy that Lebanon was cut-off from Syria after the French colonialists left. Also, Lebanon was to Syria what Honk Kong was to China a few years ago: A cash-cow and window to the international financial system that helped prop its corrupt security services. Adding to this all, the Syrian regime is threatened by the International Tribunal that will try the killers of Rafic Hariri, the popular ex-prime minister of Lebanon who was killed in in February 2005.
4- In Syria, Assad doesn’t call all the shots.
In Syria, the young president Bashar el Assad is not the only decision maker. Powerful and corrupt military and intelligence officers like Assaef Shawkat control many levers of power in Damascus and are keeping a close menacing eye on their brittle president, especially when it comes to the International Tribunal where they could be heavily implicated.
5- Peace is not a good thing for the Syrian regime.
The ruling elite in Syria is comprised of Alawites who are a tiny minority in Syria. To constantly keep the lid on the Sunni majority, the Syrian regime likes to frame the middle East Conflict as an epic conflict where Syria is “last bastion of resistance” against American and Zionist plans for the region. In other words, the narrative is changed from “dictatorial ruling minority” to “Arabs versus Zionists”.
6- Syria wants nuclear goodies.
A clandestine nuclear program is not usually a precursor to peace.
7- Human rights situation keeps getting worse in Syria.
In the last few days, Syria banned Facebook, a website that contained many Syrian civil rights activities. That adds to Damascus’ dismal record on the human rights front. If Syria really wanted to open up with the west, it would at least have tried to make some goodwill gestures on that front.