JERUSALEM (Jan. 1)
Israel is watching this week, with little enthusiasm, the blossoming rapprochement between Jordan and Syria after nearly a decade of simmering hostility. According to most analysts, it bodes ill for the peace process in the region.
King Hussein’s visit to Damascus was his first in seven years. He and President Hafez Assad of Syria announced Monday night that the two neighbors would exchange Ambassadors as a symbol of their newly-established friendship.
These developments worry Israel on two counts. Syria is expected to try to woo Jordan away from the American-orchestrated peace scenario. At the same time, the Syrians appear to be deliberately escalating military tension with Israel, possibly to impress Hussein and other Arab leaders with their unswerving dedication to the struggle against Israel.
SYRIA’S CONFRONTATIONAL ROLE
Israeli commentators say Assad seems willing to risk a military confrontation with Israel. He stubbornly refuses to remove the Soviet-made SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles recently deployed close to the Syria-Lebanon border. To Israel, this poses a potential threat to its reconnaissance flights over Lebanon to monitor terrorist activity.
It is also seen here as a slap in the face to Israel, which apparently had a tacit understanding with Syria on the limits beyond which neither side would extend its military force. Damascus has ignored discreet diplomatic efforts by Israel through a third party to have the missiles withdrawn.
Israel is also seriously concerned with Assad’s role as a “spoiler” in the Faltering Middle East peace process. Hussein, at the moment, is seeking an international framework for negotiations with Israel. He has given Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat a deadline to meet the conditions for PLO participation–acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Without compliance, Hussein might go ahead on his own, with local (West Bank) Palestinian leaders. Assad is determined to prevent a peace process from developing and especially to keep Arafat, whom he loathes, from having a diplomatic role.
HUSSEIN PLAYING A SUBTLE ROLE
One Israeli analyst, Asher Susser of Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, believes Hussein’s visit to Damascus is not a cause for alarm. According to Susser, the Jordanian ruler is playing a subtle game. He wants to reduce Syria’s opposition to his involvement in peace moves and at the same time be in a position to seek Syrian support should the peace efforts fail.
Susser cites Hussein’s “ingrained pessimism” which leads him to expect failure. Assad’s priority is to foil peace efforts, but if he cannot, he wants to make sure Syria will be involved or exert some influence over their outcome, Susser says.