Carrots or Sticks?

For the last couple of days, Syria's public pronouncements concerning the Hizbollah/Israeli conflict have been all over the map. First, they condemned the Israeli response to the capture of her soldiers. Then they softened the tone and stated that they were willing to engage in direct talks with the American government. On Saturday they threatened to engage Israel in the fight if they felt threatened. And yesterday they said they were willing to go to Rome to participate in Italian sponsored cease fire negotiations.

As noted below, we may be seeing a new alignment of interests in the Middle East. But the question is whether Syria sees her hand as strengthened or weakened by the war in Lebanon. Peter Brooks thinks all this vascillating is a sign that Syria is panicking. He says:

But while Syria's position seems to be softening, Damascus is, in actuality, desperate. It is becomes increasingly marginalized in this Middle East crisis by both the United States and other Arab nations, and may have little to no say in resolving the current Lebanese conflict.

This perspective would imply that Syria is feeling pressured by Egypt, Jordan and particularly Saudi Arabia. In addition, they may be concerned that Hizbollah is not performing well and that a Lebanon in control of its own territory and patrolled by NATO forces puts an end to the kleptocracy they've been running there for thirty some odd years.

Included in their various pronouncements has been the statement that they will engage in talks centered around a return of the Golan Heights. Israel would be hard pressed to concede this UN administered area that Syria previously used to shell Israeli territories. But the fact that Syria is making other than bellicose statements about how the present war can be ended implies that they think Hizbollah, and by extension, they, are losing.

Can Syria be turned away from Iran in a similar manner that Libya gave up its WMD? In the Libya case, there was a good deal of oil development money available, and Gaddafi chose long term riches to pan-Arabian popularity. Syria, of course, doesn't have any oil, so it will be interesting to see what "carrots" Secretary Rice is carrying to the Middle East on this trip.

Or sticks.