Middle East Times (Editorial)
May 22, 2008 - 4:47pm

In the world of high politics, as in the world of intelligence and counter-espionage, people have a hard time believing in coincidences. One such 'coincidence' occurred yesterday leaving a number of Middle East analysts asking themselves: were two major regional developments coincidental; or can a link be found between Lebanese rivals forging a deal, and Syria and Israel announcing a resumption of talks?

At almost the same time that opposing Lebanese politicians announced they had reached an agreement after five days of tense negotiations in the Qatari capital, Doha, Syria and Israel unexpectedly declared that after a long diplomatic freeze they were resuming peace talks with the aim of Syria reclaiming the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, and eventually normalizing relations.

Talks between the two countries broke off almost eight years ago, and despite repeated hints from Damascus and Jerusalem that there was interest from both sides to resume negotiations the George W. Bush administration put a damper on attempts to bring Syria to the negotiating table.

The Oval Office holds the view that negotiations with countries deemed to be unfriendly to the United States are out of the question.

This line of thinking is proving to be a huge policy failure for the United States as Washington now finds itself on the outside looking in. Washington's policy of giving the cold shoulder to Iran and Syria has backfired. With Iran, and to a lesser extent, Syria are now imposing their influence, as happened in Gaza through the Hamas takeover, and more recently in Beirut with Hezbollah.

Although all parties – from the Lebanese rivals, to Syria, Saudi Arabia and France – expressed relief that further conflict was averted in Lebanon by the rival parties negotiating an agreement, in the long run, the deal represents a clear-cut victory for the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Through a combination of civil disobedience (the sit-in, sleep-in, camp-in, where Shiites loyal to Hezbollah established a mini tent city around the prime minister's office in downtown Beirut; followed by the strong arm tactics as demonstrated last week, when Hezbollah deployed its Iranian-trained armed wing to take over great swaths of predominantly Sunni areas in Beirut, the Shiite political movement/militia demonstrated it could out-smart the U.S.-backed government.

So is it a coincidence that Syria and Israel announced a resumption of peace talks at the same time the Lebanese placed their differences behind them?

Or is there something more to be seen in the fact that just a week ago the Middle East appeared on the verge of total mayhem and yet, within the space of 24 hours, one gets the sense that peace is being given a chance once again?

The truth may never be known; such are the intricacies of the Middle East.

The interesting development however, is the absence – make that the very noticeable absence – of the United States in both instances.

The United States was not present in Qatar to back up the government it had repeatedly assured it would support through hell or high water. Nor was Washington involved in the breakthrough on the Syria-Israel front that is being mediated by Turkey.

So where in the world is Uncle Sam?


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