Jay Solomon has a fascinating piece on the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese triangle in today's Wall Street Journal. Jay is extremely knowledgeable and well-informed when it comes to the region. He is a frequent visitor, has spent time in Lebanon, and was the Wall Street Journal correspondent to Pakistan after the killing of Daniel Pearl.
Jay points out the implications of the Bush administration's investment in the Siniora-Hariri junior regime in Lebanon for the prospects of renewed Israeli-Syrian peace talks. In his words:
[T]he Bush administration... is being forced to balance the potentially diverging interests of two of its most important allies in the region, Lebanon and Israel.
... Lebanese and Israeli leaders are exploring what may be conflicting strategies to counter the Syrian threat, U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say.
How Washington navigates the competing interests of its two allies with respect to Syria could have a major impact on its ability to prevent another major regional clash after last summer's war between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
... after street protests there in 2005 forced Syria to withdraw its remaining forces from Lebanon. The Bush administration seized on the election of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora months later as a symbol of what it described as a democratization wave sweeping the Middle East. After last summer's war, the White House made stabilizing the Lebanese government a cornerstone of its Middle East strategy.
This policy has increasingly placed the Bush administration on a collision course with Damascus. Late last month, the U.S. pushed through the United Nations Security Council an international tribunal to try suspects in Mr. Hariri's assassination.
There has been ongoing press speculation as to whether the US is giving the green light to Israeli-Syrian talks or not. But the point runs deeper: if the US is not actively committed to making the Israel-Syria track succeed, then progress is highly unlikely. Progress would require a US willingness to compromise on Lebanon -- not to ditch its current Lebanese allies completely, but to back a set of arrangements which Syria would have some role in formulating. In his article, Jay quotes me as saying:
If the U.S. decides it's going to the mat to secure Lebanon, then this will have huge implications on the Syrian-Israeli front.
So a meaningful and difficult-to-stomach US shift on Syria/Lebanon is a prerequisite for real Israeli-Syrian movement -- although not a sufficient condition -- for that the parties themselves must be ready and able. But Jay does put his finger on a real chicken and egg question here: will Israel not move until the US signals a policy shift, or will that shift only be considered once Israel moves -- and, of course, can Syria up its own game in responding constructively.