The UN-crafted resolution to the crisis in Lebanon has frustrated the Syrian government. As a key actor in the region and supporter of Hezbollah , Syria anticipated their diplomatic involvement would be an obvious prerequisite to a cease-fire agreement. However, Hezbollah, the Israeli and Lebanese governments, and the international community have worked out a tenuous end to hostilities without Damascus, depriving the Bashar al-Asad regime of a diplomatic opportunity to address its own interest: regaining the Golan Heights.
In response, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad (see photo: Ricardo Stuckert_ABr) has directed a stream of belligerent rhetoric toward perceived enemies of his regime, including the US and Israel but also Beirut and other Arab capitals. Syrian officials are likely to continue this campaign of militant bluster, hoping an exaggerated sense of their own capabilities and intentions may produce diplomatic leverage. However, Damascus will not take military action aimed at recapturing the Golan Heights or at restarting negotiations for the disputed territory.
On the Rhetorical Attack
In the aftermath of the crisis, Asad voiced his strong support for Hezbollah and condemned their mutual enemies. Speaking from Damscus, he declared, “We tell them [Israelis] that after tasting humiliation in the latest battles, your weapons are not going to protect you — not your planes, or missiles or even your nuclear bombs…The future generations in the Arab world will find a way to defeat Israel” (source). He also characterized the US vision for a new Middle East as an “illusion” (source) and stated peace in the region cannot be obtained so long as the Bush administration remains in power.
Without mentioning specific states, Asad has referred to the Arab leadership (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) that originally criticized Hezbollah’s July 12 kidnapping operation as “half men” and noted, “We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for us…But he should at least not adopt the enemy’s views” (source). Furthermore, Asad described the majority coalition in the Lebanese government as Israeli collaborators and stated his intention to undermine their agenda.
Not Looking for a Fight
The Syrian government is motivated by its desire to regain the Golan Heights?captured by Israel during the 1967 War–but not to the point of taking overt military action. Syria’s primary disincentive for such action is that they are drastically outmatched by Israel in terms of conventional military strength. Hezbollah’s victory by survival may suffice for a guerrilla organization, but it is not a viable strategy for a nation-state. Syria has reportedly formed a guerrilla group in the mode of Hezbollah, aptly called ‘Front for the Liberation of the Golan,’ but its creation, if true, is more likely a propaganda stunt.
During the conflict, Syria avoided being dragged into a war, as it ignored Israel missile strikes at the Lebanon-Syria border crossings and downplayed in state-run media the deaths of five Syrians in an Israeli bombing of the Bekaa Valley (source). Outside of rhetoric, there is nothing to suggest Syria’s military reluctance has changed or that military tactics would allow Syria to regain sovereignty over the Golan Heights.