But the king also has solid credentials among Shia. He is a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, and he has reminded Iraqis on numerous recent occasions of this fact. This impresses the Shia, marked in their veneration of the prophet himself and his lineage. The kingís recent speeches serve a pointed political aim: The Hashemites are respected by all of Iraqís Islamic sects, have long been tied to the territory of Iraq, and have played a central role in the Levant. King Hussein remains close to the elite of Iraqi society, undermining the fealty of many of the tribes upon which Saddamís regime draws support. In short, all factions of Iraqi society can live with King Husseinís leadership.
Unfortunately, he entered this effort without being able to trust his own government or guarantee the acquiescence of his own people and with complications arising from Israelís and the United Statesís quest for "comprehensive peace." Signs of division within the Jordanian government over its Iraq policy became evident soon after Kamalís defection. At the same time King Hussein was making clear he sought a change of regime in Iraq (and his and Asadís foreign ministers were throwing insults at each other over the right to do so), some senior members of Jordanís government were claiming that the defection was a "passing cloud." Jordan, they said, had generally good relations with Iraq and did not seek Saddamís ouster. Jordan would not move alone without first securing "Arab solidarity and international support." Jordanís foreign minister (al-Kabariti) opposed this view. Indeed, al-Kabariti had made it clear in very undiplomatic language that Jordan will not take its foreign policy cue from others (a reference to Syria) and "does not need to discuss borders and the way we deal with neighbors with anybody." Moreover, on the same day that King Hussein was telling Israeli papers that he wanted to see Saddam replaced immediately and expects confrontation, Jordanís prime minister, Sherif Zeid bin Shaker, said Jordan was committed to good relations with Iraq. The prime minister added that Jordan would not interfere in Iraqís affairs or sacrifice its good ties with Iraq for the sake of improving ties with Gulf countries. The U.S. promise to protect Jordan from Iraq was uncalled for, he said.
It was precisely this internal lack of consensus, and the mistrust of the professional bureaucracy, that forced King Hussein to shake his government up in what was generally considered a "White Revolution" in early 1996.
The "White Revolution," the purpose of which was to set Jordan up more solidly to launch a major initiative on Iraq with the INC and other Iraqi elements, was focused on the office of the prime minister. Foreign Minister al-Kabariti was clearly among the Hashemite palaceís closest confidants and supporters in its Iraq and new Saudi policies. He was, therefore, charged with forming a new government to replace Prime Minister bin Shaker, who had been the source of mixed signals and equivocation coming from Amman on the Iraq issue. As one Arab paper reported, Kabaritiís letter of appointment was clear; it instructed him to:
The longer the Iraq problem remains unresolved, the less clear it is that King Hussein can succeed. Husseinís increasing stridency reflects his sense of danger, arising from the fact that time works against him. Time takes the initiative from his hands, giving Syria, Iran, and Iraq the time to infiltrate, plot, discredit, and isolate the king. In short, the longer this drags on and the less support he gets from the West, the more endangered are the Hashemites. The Iraq issue could eventually bring down the dynasty.
The Iraq problem threatens Jordan profoundly. It threatens Syria just as profoundly. As much as Ammanís "losing Iraq" would leave Jordan isolated, so too would Damascusís "losing Iraq" leave Syria isolated. Iraqís course affects Syriaís strategic environment in a series of ways.
First, events in Iraq can shake Syriaís position in Lebanon. Lebanon is no easy problem for Asad. He works primarily through the strong Shiite presence in the South to maintain his pressure on Israel. This pressure is necessary to preempt the Israelis from engaging more deeply in Lebanese affairs and undermining Syria in its Sunni or Christian core. But beyond the pressure on Israel, one of the most important bolts Asad retains in his arsenal to retain his strong grip on Lebanon is Hizballah, both operationally and ideologically. Hizballahís ideological core emerges from the schools of Qom in Iran. Asad uses his alliance with Iran to keep the ideological thrust of Hizballah pro-Syrian. In turn, Syria retains operational control of Hizballah through Sheikh Nasrallah, who is more closely tied to Syria than Iran. As long as Hizballah is the primary force in southern Lebanon, the Lebanese Shia are linked ideologically to Iran.
Yet, while Hizballah is linked organically and ideologically to Iran, the Shia in southern Lebanon have more traditionally been linked over centuries through intermarriage and tribal alliances to Najaf in Iraq (a city in which the main Shiite schools are located). Because of Saddamís control of Iraq and suppression of Shia Islam, and because of Asadís control of Lebanon, the Lebanese Shia gradually were forced to abandon their ties to Iraq and accept Hizballah and Iran by default as their religious center.
A Hashemite presence in Iraq, especially within the Shia centers in Najaf, could break Iranís and Syriaís grip on the Shiite community of Lebanon. Were Jordan to prevail in Iraq, then Najafís elite, with its veneration of the prophetís family, would be tied to King Hussein, and pro-Jordan Iraq Shiites as Ahmed Chalabi and Layth Qubbah of the al-Khoe foundation would define the Iraqi Shiite community after Saddamís removal. Close cooperation between Israel and Jordan could undermine Syriaís pressure on Israelís northern border as the local Shia are weaned from Hizballahís domination. In short, developments in Iraq could potentially unravel Syriaís structure in Lebanon by severing the Shia-Syrian-Iranian axis.
In fall 1995, Syria faced not only the Iraq issue, but the festering problem of Lebanese leadership, since the final term of the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon, Elias Hrawi, was to expire soon. To avoid an unraveling of his solid grip in Lebanon while he engaged this most important Iraqi issue, Asad had to quickly solve the leadership problem. According to Lebanese sources, Asad summoned Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and Speaker Beri to Damascus, where they heard on September 10 according to Lebanese government sources, that:
The two were told simply to reinstall President Hrawi.
Lebanon was not the only problem Syria faced. By late fall 1995 and early 1996, Syriaís efforts in Iraq were falling apart. Key figures involved in the July 1995 meetings in Damascus, such as Bahr al-Uloum and Wafiq Samarrai, moved closer to Jordan, and even al-Hakim was forced to publicly admit the infeasibility of his plans to establish a field command in Iraq. And by March 1996, al-Hakim, perhaps in a moment of opportunism and sensing the currents, relayed a message to King Hussein through the Kurdish PUK leader, Jalal Talabani, offering SAIRIís cooperation in any action against Saddamís regime.
Driven by the need to keep together its crumbling Baathist state and its rickety regional strategy, Syria cannot afford to abandon to Jordan its efforts with respect to Iraq. Within a half year from the moment of great hope in June-July 1995 (the Ramadi unrest), Damascusí opportunities in Iraq turned into a mortal danger. Accordingly, Syria moved from actively forging an alternate Iraqi opposition to sabotaging Jordanís efforts. This strategy, the results of which were mixed, took the following forms:
Syriaís Efforts to Isolate Amman and Subvert the Hashemites
In response to Jordan's bid, Syria had to isolate Amman diplomatically. First, Damascus moved to neutralize the legitimacy which Hussein Kamalís defection had conferred on Ammanís credentials among the Iraqi opposition. It did so by discrediting Kamal himself as a worthy or even genuine opponent of Saddam. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) began lambasting Kamal, hinting that he should be killed along with Saddam. In the words of Fayez Sayegh, chief editor of SANA: "When people take over, they will punish all those whose hands were stained by blood whether they were inside or outside of Iraq....The change should not be made by Saddamís men." Syria also forbade any of the Iraqi opposition elements based in Damascus from meeting Kamal, a request with which all but one complied though some of them, such as al-Hakim, publicly had noted only a few days earlier that they wanted to work with Kamal. Furthermore, pro-Syrian newspapers, such as the Lebanese as-Safir, blasted the Hashemite-American-Israeli conspiracy to take over and partition Iraq and isolate Syria:
Having launched the public campaign to discredit Hussein Kamal, Syria moved also on the international diplomatic front to forge a coalition against Jordanís efforts, tapping the historic antipathies that both Egypt and Saudi Arabia had with Jordan.
The first such diplomatic effort was to secure Egyptís opposition to Jordan. On September 3, Asad flew to Egypt to meet President Mubarak, after which the two expressed strong reservations over Kamal, emphasized that efforts to remove Saddam must remain pan-Arab, and accused Jordan of undermining inter-Arab cooperation. Syriaís next address was Iran. On September 10, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq a-Shara traveled to Iran to report to Rafsanjani that Syria had succeeded in securing Egyptís complete support for the Syrian-Iranian position on Iraq. Echoing the views of Egypt's leaders, Cairoís government-run papers began criticizing harshly, even ridiculing, King Hussein and his Iraq policy. First came an article by Samir Ragab in Egyptís al-Gomhuriya. It attacked Hussein as an American stooge. This negative campaign continued deep into 1996.
Other Arabs quickly grasped the existence and significance of Syrian-Jordanian competition. The Saudi pan-Arab daily, Asharq al-Awsat, described the Egyptian-Syrian summit clearly as "an attempt to snatch the initiative out of Jordanís hands on Iraq," and in a separate article, noted that "a new regional alliance is taking shape to counter U.S. plans for the country." Despite its understanding of the momentous importance of Jordanís shift from supporter to opponent of Saddam, Saudi policy following the Kamal defection was confused. The Saudis went from initially being positive to eventually being negative, but with some residual ambivalence, a pattern suggestive of differences in ruling Saudi circles. These differences sharpened, and thus surfaced visibly, in early 1996. At first, Saudi Arabia welcomed Kamalís defection. The editor of the pan-Arab, Saudi-run weekly, al-Majalla, enthused in the Saudi daily, Asharq al-Awsat, on the positive role that Kamal could play in toppling Saddam and warned "opposition groups that if they try to discredit him they will only be assisting Saddam." Saudi Arabia reacted positively officially as well, and sent their intelligence director, Prince Turki al-Faisal, to Amman to debrief Kamal, and invited Jordanís Foreign Minister al-Kabariti to come to Riyadh to meet with King Fahd. Saudi papers predicted "imminent, positive developments in the Saudi-Jordanian relationship," which had been severed since 1991. Indeed, largely through the efforts of al-Kabariti, even as the Saudis soured on Jordanís efforts, Jordanian-Saudi relations improved throughout fall 1995. This was demonstrated by the reestablishing of diplomatic relations, with the appointment of Abdallah al-Sudairi as the new Saudi ambassador to Amman. Appointing an al-Sudairi established a clear link between the al-Saud ruling familyís Sudairi branch (which includes Fahd, Sultan, Naif, Turki, and Salman) and Jordan. This is a matter of great consequence ó especially with respect to the Syrian-Jordanian competition over Iraq. The Sudairi branch, close to the United States, was entering the succession struggle with Crown Prince Abdallah, who is not a Sudairi and is close to Syria and more sympathetic to Saddam.
Yet, while these meetings and diplomatic acts signaled Saudi-Jordanian rapprochement, there were conflicting signals as well coming from Saudi Arabia. Indeed the editor of a major Saudi paper wrote an editorial blasting Syria, saying that "the sudden emergence of Syrian-led opposition to the Jordanian project has unsettled many, and could end up rescuing the Iraqi regime from its grave predicament." But by late-September, Saudi Arabia had reversed most of its initial support for Jordan and joined Syria and Egypt in signaling that it preferred the status quo rather than leap into the unknown with a Jordanian-inspired change in Baghdad.
There was, thus, a clearly different reaction between Saudi Arabia and Syria in the first weeks after the Kamal defection, perhaps, again, reflecting fissures within Riyadh between pro-Syrian and pro-Western/Jordanian camps of the royal family.
Egypt had ever since Jordanís shift on Israel (because of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty) sought to undermine King Hussein in coordination with Syria. Thus, Cairo moved quickly to help Asad not only in his campaign to discredit Hussein Kamal, but to isolate and undermine Amman. Egypt played a major role keeping Saudi Arabia and Jordan apart. In early February, with much fanfare and two-months lead-up, King Hussein was to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Fahd and "seal the reconciliation between Jordan and Saudi Arabia." In advance of this visit, Egypt worked behind the scenes with Crown Prince Abdallah and Asad to try to persuade them to "clear the air with Iraq" because of concerns over Jordanian initiatives. Finally, a few hours before King Husseinís trip, Mubarak flew to Riyadh and met with Crown Prince Abdallah. The two conspired to cancel the Fahd/Hussein meeting and "to abort a full Jordanian-Saudi reconciliation at the last minute." A number of Arab papers noted the next day that Jordanís Iraq policy was a matter of particular attention during the Mubarak/Abdallah meeting. They noted that Mubarak met with Abdallah to "abort the Jordanian monarchís visit to the Kingdom by stressing that the call for a federation in Iraq [the Hashemite plan] was dangerous and could have an adverse impact on the stability of the region." It worked: there was no Hussein/Fahd summit.
While Egypt moved to drive a wedge between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Syria tried to enlist Turkey. In an effort to exploit fears of a breakup of Iraq, which could exacerbate Turkeyís Kurdish problem, Iran and Syria convened a foreign ministerís meeting in Teheran with Turkey on September 8, 1995 to discuss the Iraq problem. To emphasize the danger of Jordanís plan to Turkey, in the week leading up to the meeting, both the Syrian and Iranian press highlighted Jordanís initiative as an Israeli-American plan to carve up Iraq and set up a Kurdish state. Turkey attended, but Syria and Iran failed to draw Turkey into a specific announcement opposing King Husseinís initiative or his hosting of Kamal. Indeed, the final communique included only a general statement that "the division of Iraq would have dangerous consequences for peace and stability at both the regional and international levels." Syria could simply not lure Turkey.
Syria also worked to undermine, perhaps even subvert the Hashemite reign in Jordan. Throughout the fall and winter, 1995-1996, King Hussein was besieged by Syrian efforts to infiltrate agents into Jordan and to undermine his regime. For example, King Hussein told the Jordanian press on February 22, 1995, that he had information that "Syrian Prime Minister Abdelhalim Khaddam had offered to cooperate with eight Jordanian opposition leaders" who visited Damascus in January 1995 in order to thwart further Israel-Jordanian cooperation.
Saudi papers reported in late spring that Jordanian authorities continued to arrest infiltrators of Palestinian organizations from Syria who were going to conduct acts in Jordan. And Jordanian Prime Minister al-Kabariti claimed that Jordanian forces had foiled 36 planned terror attacks in Jordan linked to the purported infiltrations. By May 1996, Israeli papers reported that the Jordanians had arrested several dozens of people suspected of planning terror attacks against tourists and senior Jordanian officials, and that a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Kabariti had been foiled the month before. The Israeli papers reported that Jordan had information that Syrian President Asad was aware of the planned wave of terror, and was trying "to show that the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan could not provide any country in the region with security and quiet."
Jordanian Prime Minister Kabaritiís statements underscore what is perhaps the most important regional shift: Jordan was moved across the board by the Syria-Iraq matter to cooperate strategically with Israel to establish a pro-Western bloc to dominate the Levantís balance of power. Syria in turn, understood this and engaged every effort to sabotage the shift. The most dangerous of Damascusís efforts to sabotage Amman took the shape of the Syrian-Israeli peace process, which exploited Israelís quest for "comprehensive peace." The "comprehensive" nature of peace was meant to neutralize Jordanís special strategic relationship with Israel.
Linking Syriaís Regional Aims to the Peace Process
Israel and the United States have spent the last five years pursuing a regionally comprehensive peace. Underlying this view is the assumption that lack of progress on any one Arab-Israeli negotiating track undermines the progress of any other. This has led Israel and the United States to make concessions to Arafat and Asad under the notion that it would reinforce King Husseinís decision to make peace with Israel.
The pursuit of comprehensive peace can actually undermine Hussein. The pursuit includes too monolithic a view of the Arab world regarding the Arab-Israeli dispute. It accepts pan-Arab dreams of secular-Arab nationalists ó that there is an "Arab interest" to all Arab leaders aspire. But these dreams, which have brought ruin on to the Arab world, have also served to prevent Arab leaders from cooperating with Israel against other Arab leaders. Each leader has far more important strategic interests than the "Arab" cause.
The Arab worldís leaders are not informed by pan-Arabism. They are obsessed with survival. As such, inter-Arab conflicts, not Arab-Israeli issues, are the primary issues that occupy the minds of Arab leaders. Political developments in the Arab-Israeli dispute do little to threaten Asadís or King Husseinís existence internally. On the other hand, inter-Arab rivalries, along with the artificiality and porousness of borders, become acute internal problems for Arab leaders. The conflict between Jordan and Syria threatens both regimes.
Thus, the Arab-Israeli dispute acquires primary importance for Arab leaders only insofar as Israelís power is a deus ex machina for Arab leaders to tap for their existential dispute with other Arabs. That motivation grounded the Weizman-Faisal agreements of 1919. It led to the King Abdullah-Israeli understandings in the early 1950s. It forced King Hussein to rely on Israel during Syriaís intervention in "Black September" 1970. It encouraged various Lebanese factions, including the Shias, to support Israelís invasion of Lebanon in 1982. And it has now led Jordan into the current peace agreement with Israel ó exactly because Amman needs Jerusalemís cooperation on regional strategic matters.
The faulty assumptions upon which the quest for comprehensive peace are based leads Israel and the United States into a dangerous strategic misstep. The more Israel tries to solidify its ties to King Hussein by appeasing Arafat and Asad, the more Israel abets their efforts to undermine King Hussein, unraveling the strategic cooperation between Jerusalem and Amman upon which King Husseinís decision to make peace is based.
Syria's interest in the Arab-Israeli peace process is informed largely by how it benefits Damascus in realizing it regional ambitions. Specifically, it is informed by how the peace process can help Damascus out-maneuver competing Arabs. Within the context of this regional ĎAlawite-Hashemite confrontation, the peace process with Asad and Arafat undermines Jordan. Jordan engages in the peace process to secure Israeli and American support for his regional efforts against Asad and Arafat. In response to Jordan's bid to influence the course of events in Iraq, Syria linked continuation of the Arab-Israeli peace process to American support for Syria's "regional concerns," which clearly meant Iraq. Syria dangles (but never fulfills) the temptation of peace in front of Israel and the United States in the hope of luring them into toning down their support for King Hussein in Iraq. In essence, Damascus took the peace process hostage to force on the United States and Israel his strategic plan to undermine Jordan.
At least until the Israeli elections of summer 1996, Syriaís lure worked. Already in early September 1995, American officials started issuing a long series of public reassurances to Damascus that America would not harm Syrian interests by its Iraq policy. For example, after threats by Asad in early September over not resuming peace talks, an American official hastened to assure Asad by telling al-Hayat, that Assistant Secretary of State Pelletreauís early September trip which excluded Syria was not a snub:
The United States is not trying to put pressure on Syria...by manipulating the regional equation in light of Hussein Kamalís defection....I will be very frank. The Syrians were talking of the United Statesí trying to manipulate developments in Iraq in a conspiratorial manner to increase pressure on Syria to make progress on the peace talks....This is far from the truth....Our policy toward Iraq is our policy toward Iraq and it exists in its own right. It is not linked....The United States is not trying to use Iraq as a Ďstickí with which to beat Syria.
Pelletreau was making clear to Syria that the United States would not exploit Syriaís concerns on Iraq; instead it would accommodate those concerns with its regional strategy.
Syria, either unimpressed by this reassurance or encouraged by Americaís anxiety over the peace process (or both), linked the issues even more closely. On September 27, 1995, a Syrian official spoke to a reporter from the Saudi pan-Arab paper, Asharq al-Awsat. According to the reporter, the Syrian official conveyed the following:
Additional warnings were sounded by pro-Syrian journalists on the eve of Secretary of State Warren Christopherís trip to Syria in early October 1995. Accordingly, during Christopher's trip, Asad demanded that the United States address its regional fears and agree to the centrality of "Syria's regional role on the future Middle East map" before it would agree to restart talks with Israel. The following week, the U. S. Assistant Secretary of State Pelletreau assured Syria that:
There was a lot of speculation that we and others might be trying to...put pressure on Syria through the policy we are following in Iraq, and I can tell you it is not true. In fact, we have had a certain dialogue with Syria about developments within Iraq. The key point here is that the problems that continue to exist with Iraq [are] one set of problems that are not related to the peace process.
But the issue arose again in November, when Syria warned of Jordanian schemes and linked them to a Jordanian-Israeli strategic plan. Khaddam, in an interview to al-Wasatís George Seeman, not only linked, but merged Jordanís efforts in Iraq with the peace process as one coherent conspiracy:
These Syrian warnings were shortly afterwards met by further American, and eventually even Israeli, assurances that Syriaís "regional anxieties" will be assuaged. Indeed, by December 1995, Jewish news sources reported that Israel, "in a deliberate departure from long-held positions...conferred on Syria a new strategic and regional significance that the secularist state never had." Jerusalem and Washington were sliding into being responsible for propping-up, if not even supporting, Baathism in order to keep the "peace process" afloat. In doing so, they were rapidly undermining the Hashemites in Jordan.
Loosening Saddamís Isolation
Despite all of Syriaís efforts, including help from Egypt and some factions within Saudi Arabia, and despite the United Statesí and Israelís strategic missteps, Jordanian efforts gained momentum. In early 1996, after a series of meetings between King Hussein and INC heads in London, King Hussein staged a late-January Amman conference encompassing a broad array of opposition figures, including some that had taken part in the Syrian-based meeting in July 1996. Lacking the power to halt Jordanís efforts directly, Syria signaled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam. Thus, soon after the Kamal defection, Asad moved to sabotage King Husseinís efforts by trying to prop up Saddam long enough to ensure failure of Ammanís drive. The first indication of the implementation of this strategy was an article, written by a Jordanian Baathist, already in August, 1995:
By early September 1995, Saudi papers were reporting that:
In October, major Western papers began to report the rapprochement with Saddam, saying "the bitter foes of Baghdad suddenly decided that Saddam and the status quo were preferable to a potentially dangerous disintegration of Iraq," which is how King Husseinís objectives are generally described. By mid-December, Arab papers noted improving Iraqi-Syrian ties, with one Bahrain daily reporting that "Syria is hinting that it might restore ties with Iraq in order to strengthen its hand." Egypt played a major role in this effort as well.
In early spring 1996, Syria began using Algerian mediation in order to affect a Syrian-Iraqi thaw. By late spring 1996, reportedly Asad began to meet directly with Saddam Hussein along the Syrian-Iraqi border to try to forge a common strategy to deal with what Asad called a threat of "the return to the policy of alliances," namely Jordanian efforts to oust Saddam and the creation of regional Israeli-Jordanian-Turkish-American bloc.
Part of Syriaís efforts may also involve relieving the pressure on Saddam. Iraq is forbidden under a number of UN resolutions from selling its oil, except under UN supervision and provisos. It is possible, however, that Syria is allowing Iraq to transport some of its oil for export through Tripoli, Lebanon. There is no firm evidence of this transshipment activity, but rumors persist. If so, then the oil would pass most securely through the port in Tripoli, to be transshipped as Syrian oil. The port in Tripoli is run by a Sunni named Shaaban, called the "Prince of the Believers." Shaaban is a close friend of Asad and skims money for private use from port operations. This arrangement permits Syria to conduct clandestine transshipments discreetly.
Saudi Succession as a Factor between Iraq and Jordan
To tolerate Saddam would incur the wrath of Saudi Arabia ó a relationship even more important to Syria than its ties to Iran. Asadís relationship with Saudi Arabia ó anchored to personal ties between Crown Prince Abdallah and Syria ó is important for a number of reasons. It helps keep the common Hashemite foe off balance and is a vital link in isolating King Hussein. Saudi Arabia has provided Syria with much-needed cash in the past. The relationship helps Syria avoid isolation within the Arab world. Finally, it encourages the Saudis to intervene with the West to keep Syria out of the "rogue nation" camp that includes Iran, Libya, and Iraq; namely it helps Syria avoid isolation vis-a-vis Europe and America.
Syria, however, is clearly worried about its relations with Saudi Arabia and the damage Jordanís initiative could cause. As early as September 1995, as al-Wasatís Damascus correspondent Ibrahim Hamidi, reported, "[Syriaís] main concern at present is the prospect of Jordan adopting a major role in bringing about a change in Iraq, which would reduce the oil-rich Gulf statesí need for Syria." Hussein Kamalís defection and Jordanís subsequent initiative began to cause a rift on regional policy between Riyadh and Damascus. This fear must have been sharpened in January 1996 as King Hussein was openly making efforts to unite the various Iraqi opposition factions and have them move to Amman as their center of operations. Asad must have been particularly concerned when the al-Sudairi Saudi ambassador to Jordan, Abdallah al-Sudairi, "declared that there are no differences between his country and Jordan over Iraq...and that the two countries were working together." Asadís problem was compounded by the Jordanian "White Revolution" in the first week of February 1996, which installed al-Kabariti, known for his antipathy toward Syria. Syria was in danger of losing Saudi support on the Iraq issue, to Jordan.
To respond, Syria launched a strategic initiative to counter the pro-American drift in the Middle East, isolate Amman, and bring Saddamís Iraq out of the woods within limits, if only to counter-balance what it perceives is a pro-American, Israeli-Turkish-Jordanian alliance.
Syriaís efforts to challenge the United States and deal with Iraq could run into resistance in Riyadh. In the framework of this delicate, but vital, relationship for Asad, Syriaís involvement in the June 1996 terror attack on the U.S. barracks at Khobar towers in Dhahran is most perplexing. Press reports indicate persistently that Syria at least tolerated, perhaps even assisted, in the attack on American forces at Dhahranís Khobar Towers housing complex in June 1996. There is also mounting circumstantial evidence that this is the case. The bomb, according to reports circulated widely in the American press, originated in Lebanon, which is virtually under complete control of Ghazi Kanían, Syriaís de facto military governor of Lebanon. In the words of Alain Chouet, head of the French Mission to the United Nations in Geneva:
If Syria had no role in the bomb, and Hizballah acted in a wildcat operation, then this would have been an embarrassment to Asad, a failure of Kanían, and a major crisis in one of Syriaís most important regional relationships. Yet, a week later, Ghazi Kanían was promoted; he was appointed Director of the Foreign Operations Branch of Syrian intelligence, among the most sensitive positions in Syria.
If true, why would Syria, a regime not given to forfeiting control, allow itself to be implicated with an operation so damaging to its most important associate in the region? Why would Syria, when it has entered a dangerous struggle with Jordan over the balance of power in the Levant, risk antagonizing one of its most important allies? And why would Syria, just as it moves to keeping Saddam afloat, risk antagonizing the Saudis further? The answer to these questions lies in the dynamics of internal Saudi politics, the course of which is critical to Asad. The split within the royal family, between the al-Sudairis and Abdallah, presents Syria with an opportunity. In launching an anti-American campaign that might include tolerance and rehabilitation of Saddam, Asad would have a particular problem with the al-Sudairi branch of the ruling al-Saud family. That branch is closer to the United States than to Syria. Moreover, the al-Sudairis have also been leading the rapprochement with Jordan, appointing one of its own members as the ambassador to Amman. They are also adamant in rejecting any rapprochement with Saddam.
In contrast to the al-Sudairis, Crown Prince Abdallah is closer to Syria than to the United States. He has even led efforts to sabotage Jordanian-Saudi rapprochement. He is also more positively disposed toward Saddam Hussein, in part because of his antipathy toward Jordan. In short, Asad and Abdallah share a regional strategic view.
Most observers would argue that the survival of the Saudi regime as we know it rests upon the presence and connection of the royal family to the Americans. The Gulf War, the reliance on U.S. forces, and the close ties to the Bush administration have so identified these royals with the American relationship that they could hardly survive its souring. The terrorists who attacked the Khobar towers were surely aware of this, and it is likely that they understood that attacking the American presence would threaten the position of these royals.
To make sense of Syriaís involvement, if true, indicates that there must be a more nuanced understanding of Syriaís calculus toward Saudi Arabia. The increasingly acute succession struggle in the Saudi kingdom may provide context.
In late December 1995, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia became ill, passing de facto power to Prince Abdallah, known for his sympathies to Syria. This dress rehearsal for the real transfer approaching, which included visible jostling for power between Princes Sultan and Abdallah, clarified for Syria both its opportunities as well as dangers at that moment. Abdallah had been placed in temporary charge of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when King Fahd was incapacitated through illness. Yet, during Abdallahís brief absence for a state visit to a neighboring Gulf state, his main al-Sudairi rival, Prince Sultan, asserted power back in Riyadh. Abdallah had to hurry home and reassert his temporary, but paramount ruling status. Part of this effort to reassert power, according to Lebanese information, involved inviting Syrian operatives into the kingdom. Some of these operatives also assisted Lebanese terror groups in establishing a stronger foothold in the kingdom.
While Syria may not be interested in destabilizing or antagonizing Saudi Arabia as a nation, it may be interested in undermining Saudi Arabiaís relations with the United States by encouraging and even helping forces within the kingdom who want to eject the Americans.
The close U.S.-Saudi relationship is essential for the survival of the al-Sudairi branch of the royal family that controls the regime currently. It is not so essential, and may even be detrimental, for other elements of the royal family. Some branches, such as those around Abdallah, are much more anti-Western, and even regard Saddam favorably. Even the most virulent of the local, anti-royal, fundamentalist-Sunni movements that call for violence and may have been involved in the Dhahran bombing, understand this distinction and seem to focus their wrath primarily on the al-Sudairi branch of the al-Saud family. In the words of al-Masariís Committee for the Defense of Legal Rights (CDLR),
Crown Prince Abdallah is glaringly absent from this list.
It is possible that Syria is undermining Saudi Arabiaís relations with the United States in order to sabotage the position of the al-Sudairis and assist others in the royal family closer to the Syrians, more opposed to the United States and Jordan, more tolerant of Iraq and less hostile to Iran. In other words, if the succession struggle in Saudi Arabia is on Asadís mind, then assisting those who wish to remove the U.S. umbrella from Saudi Arabia through terror attacks, is in Syriaís interest, precisely because Saudi Arabia is so important for Asad. Syria needs to ensure that succession flows in the direction of Abdallah and those who share his sentiments, and away from those who draw closer to Jordan.
Syria has interfered before in Saudi Arabia. In summer 1995, Asad conspired with Crown Prince Abdallah ó who is a married to a member of the prominent Sunni Itri family in Damascus that is very closely aligned with the Asad clan ó to engineer a crisis that would sabotage improving Turkish-Saudi ties, according to the Turkish journal, Nokta. A number of Turkish nationals who had been selling drugs from Syrian-controlled territory in Lebanon and transferring them through the Hatay province in Turkey, were arrested in Saudi Arabia. When a death sentence was passed on these Turks, the Turkish government sent high-ranking emissaries to Riyadh to argue for commuting their sentence. However, the Turks were executed on Abdallahís order even though the Turkish emissaries had been reassured by King Fahd this would not happen.
The succession question is especially important because Abdallah and Sultan, the two most likely successors, are old, of questionable health and will serve at best as transitional figures. Their importance lies in the power wielded as king and in anointing the next generation of royal princes. Common wisdom holds that all the members of the royal family are keenly aware that their primary concern must be the survival of the royal family, and that even inter-family rifts over power are subordinate to the quest for family preeminence. Still, many observers concede that Saudi succession may be just as likely an unbridled and unprincipled struggle for power. Indeed, precisely because the survival of the family is on the line with every succession, precisely because the stakes are so high, the factional infighting may be intense as each views the otherís politics as leading to the familyís dishonor and destruction. Moreover, the vulnerability and importance of Saudi Arabia tempt other nations, such as Syria and Iran, to interfere in internal Saudi politics to shape the succession struggle, perhaps even without their Saudi benefactorís being aware of this.
Thus, the stakes are not only over the next king, but over the institutionalization of the long-term direction which Saudi Arabia will take ó toward the West and Jordan under the al-Sudairis, or toward Syria under Crown Prince Abdallah.
Undermining the INC in Northern Iraq
Jordan relied heavily on an alliance with the INC to pursue the Hashemite option. The INC encompasses the entire Iraqi opposition spectrum except some of those groups working with Damascus. By coordinating with the INC, King Hussein gave his Hashemite initiative an Iraqi facade. Moreover, the INCís presence in northern Iraq gave Jordan a locally populated geographic base ó northern Iraq ó from which to operate.
Hussein Kamalís defection to Amman in summer 1995 and Jordanís introducing its initiative on Iraq coincided with an American-mediated cease-fire between Kurdish factions in northern Iraq in late summer 1995, dubbed the "Dublin Agreement." This was yet another blow to Asad since it thrust the INC functionally as the protectors of peace in northern Iraq, therein proving the organizationís effectiveness, reversing the weakness it faced as a result of the Kurdish infighting in spring 1995 which had left a void which Asad sought to fill. In short, King Hussein began forging an alliance with the INC to exploit traditional Hashemite ties to Iraqi society for the purpose of slowly infiltrating the tribal base surrounding Saddam. This transformed northern Iraq into a springboard and node of opposition activity associated with King Husseinís initiative.
Given the INCís importance to King Husseinís initiative, and given the INCís base of power in northern Iraq, the key battle ground between Syria and Jordan shifted in fall 1995 to northern Iraq. Iraqi opposition sources reported that Jordan was trying to "counter Syrian attempts to undermine its role in Iraq by establishing a ĎJordanian presenceí in the Western-protected Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq." There were even reports that Israel had established an intelligence presence in northern Iraq in collaboration with Iraqi opposition leaders; whether true or not, these reports drew a strong warning from Syria and affected its perception of the situation.
While the "Dublin agreement" laid a solid geographical foundation for Jordan to pursue its Hashemite initiative, America did not use the "Dublin agreement" and cease-fire as a springboard to rejuvenate and forward the INC as a solution to the Iraq problem as a whole and to solidify its position on northern Iraq. Indeed, after the "Dublin agreement" was signed, America neglected northern Iraq and the role it would play in the competition for Iraqís future. U.S. envoys promised economic, financial, and security assistance to the INC, but little, in fact, materialized. Without U.S. involvement, the working relations between the two main Kurdish factions deteriorated as the INC lost its mediating effectiveness. The INC had been born and based in northern Iraq; politically ignoring northern Iraq was tantamount to abandoning the INC. Iran and Syria, seeing the vacuum thus created, soon began to assert their influence in the north by exploiting their geographic advantages ó a move which drew no American response. It is likely that Syria and Iran increased their involvement in northern Iraq's Kurdish areas and undermined the "Dublin agreement" in large part in order to sabotage King Husseinís plans.
Two-weeks after the U.S.-brokered cease-fire in northern Iraq, the pro-Syria/Iran Kurdish faction, the PKK, attacked pro-INC Kurdish factions in an act, which Kamran Karadaghi, al-Hayatís Iraq commentator, noted:
With the Kurdish issue unresolved, Iran and Syria increased their leverage in northern Iraq. Throughout the fall, Iran and Syria pushed hard to press both the KDP and PUK to regard them as the main power brokers. Iran moved SAIRIís military wing, the Badr forces, into northern Iraq by December ó an act which drew Turkeyís, but not U.S. concern.
Syriaís and Iranís pressure began to pay off by late November, as evinced by the public agreements between the KDP, PUK, and SAIRI. The effects of the pressure were evident in the way in which both the PUK and KDP were forced to provide ostentatious receptions to visiting Iranian dignitaries, especially Iranís Iraq policy supremo, Ali Agha Mohammadi. It is possible that the increasing difficulties that the INC encountered in late fall 1995 in northern Iraq led the two Kurdish factions by late November to enter discussions with King Hussein of Jordan to move their center of activity from northern Iraq to Amman, as some Iraqi opposition elements claim.
The PUK, located in the eastern part of the enclave, buckled and came to terms with Iran. The KDP, located in the western part, remained aloof and refused to disband its anti-Iranian wing, the KDP-Iran. By spring 1996, Iranís Revolutionary Guards and Red Crescent Society intervened directly and freely in northern Iraq. Iran eventually invaded northern Iraq in June 1996, and pressed the PUK into active hostility against the KDP. The KDP was beleaguered in the face of Iranís pressure. America still took no notice of these developments, highlighting its political disengagement from northern Iraq.
Iran and Syria succeeded by summer 1996 to force Kurdish factions in the north to submit to Iranís and Syriaís domination or face obliteration.
Syriaís and Iranís interventions in northern Iraq had another deleterious effect that would undermine Jordan. It highlighted the power vacuum that the north had become. Such a vacuum was sure to invite Saddamís attentions. The efforts of Jordanís King Hussein to undermine Saddam over the past year particularly threatened Saddam. By late summer 1996, Saddam was ready to respond to this threat. According to the Jordanian government, Saddam fomented riots in August 1996 in a number of Jordanian cities, including the worst in seven years in Kerak, to derail Jordanís Hashemite option. Then, on August 30, displaying understanding that using power generates power, Saddam exploited the U.S. neglect of northern Iraq and invaded northern Iraq. While Saddamís incursion into the north was aimed tactically at the Kurds, it served this much broader strategic purpose. He invaded to undermine Hashemite plans and reverse his image of weakness. Saddam acted in response to the fragility of his regime, which has tempted Iraqís neighbors to compete for power in Iraq in preparation for Saddamís departure.
The competition to inherit Iraq has been underway since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Its course will profoundly affect the balance of power in the Middle East. The events of August 1996 in northern Iraq are only the latest chapter in this competition, with Saddam reasserting himself as a major actor as well.
It would be tempting for the United States to write off northern Iraq and let Syria, Iran, and Iraq brawl over the scraps. But King Hussein has launched an initiative that can manage the chaos that awaits Iraq and the Levant in a way that benefits the United States. It is in the Westís interest that Jordan prevail in this confrontation. Were the Hashemites to win, then they could become the cornerstone of a stable balance of power that also includes Israel and Turkey.
The United States should encourage a reshaping of the regional balance of power in which Jordan plays a major role. The kingís efforts have earned him the enmity of the most dangerous regimes in the Middle East: Asadís, Saddamís, and Rafsanjaniís. If left to stand alone, King Husseinís initiative, perhaps even his regime, will be threatened in the face of such powerful opponents.
So this brings us back to the first questions of strategy. How should the West, particularly the United States and Israel, deal with the strategic competition over Iraq? To begin with, the battle over Iraq represents a desperate attempt by residual Soviet bloc allies in the Middle East to block the extension into the Middle East of the impending collapse that the rest of the Soviet bloc faced in 1989. The West must avoid repeating the mistakes at the end of the Cold War. It was futile and counterproductive in 1989-1991 to pursue stability in East Europe by trying to salvage communism and Gorbachevís rule. It is equally unwise to pursue stability in the Levant by propping up secular-Arab nationalism.
Moreover, the effort to prop up secular-Arab nationalism in its crumbling weakness, is anchored to the belief that it can be "reformed" enough to be resurrected as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet, one of the main strategic objectives of the peace process is to perpetuate Levantine secular-Arab nationalist regimes. Indeed, the previous Israeli government believed that, "[Israelís] role is to protect the existing regimes, to prevent or halt the process of radicalization, and to block the expansion of fundamental religious zealotry."
But the present study, which is the second IASPS Research Paper in Strategy to be published by the Institute, shows that the pursuit of comprehensive peace and the effort to harness secular-Arab nationalist regimes such as Syriaís in the battle to stem the fundamentalist tide is not only futile. It is also a dangerous strategic misstep. Five years ago, the West learned that resisting the tide of fundamentalism in Iran by embracing secular-Arab nationalism in Iraq was perilous. The attempt to play one against the other was an explosive mistake. The same lesson should now be applied to Syria. It is in both Israelís and the Westís interest to expedite the demise of secular-Arab nationalism. Secular-Arab nationalism, which is indeed on the edge of collapse, is perhaps most dangerous in its final moments and should not be regarded as an "ally in waiting." The pursuit of the peace process is preventing this.
Secular-Arab nationalism, particularly Baathism, undermines regional stability and damages the Westís interests not only in its active role as a threat, but also in its more passive role as an obstacle to introducing more formidable, and beneficial, intellectual defenses among Arabs with which to stem fundamentalism. Secular-Arab nationalism offers no intellectual challenge to fundamentalism. It now holds onto power not by weight of its idea, but by the intensity of its terror. As long as this transitional, languishing circumstance continues, the Arab world is prevented from pursuing alternatives. Most of all, the effort to salvage secular-Arab nationalism, like the quest for "comprehensive peace," itself becomes dangerous and destabilizing to the regionís balance of power.
As the rejection of communism was necessary for the Europeans and Russians to move on to a government more able to resist dangerous ideas in former East bloc countries, so too is the rejection of radical secular-Arab nationalism necessary for the Arab world to move to a more healthy future. The West and its local friends must engage fundamentalism with better associates than Baathists.
Although the United States contains Iraq militarily, Washington and Jerusalem ignore Iraq politically. This too is, in part, a legacy of the peace process. U.S. and Israeli regional policies were informed almost exclusively by the quest for comprehensive peace, which replaced traditional strategic considerations, especially the balance of power, with European Union-style regional integration.
Israelís policies toward Iraq have been largely driven by this concept of "comprehensive peace." Israel's Rabin, who had developed a close working relationship with Jordan's Hussein, grasped the significance of Jordanís shift and supported Jordan's efforts. This support continued initially after Rabin's death. HaAretz reported that in Peres' December meetings with top American officials, he even proposed the creation of NATO-style alliance among Israel, Jordan, a post-Saddam Iraq, and Turkey. But Israeli commentators noted that all such cooperation was conceived more as a form of prodding Asad to accept comprehensive peace than as a strategic plan to contain, undermine, and eventually transcend Syria and secular-Arab nationalism. "Comprehensive peace," rather than balance of power, continued to inform Israeli policy on Iraq, as was revealed a month later when Syria balked returning to the negotiations. The stalling of the Syrian track, and the Israeli governmentís desire to revive it, led Israel to concede to Syria its prominent regional role rather than to redouble its efforts to contain or undermine Asad. In this context, the United States, as Pelletreauís statements indicate, and Israel, as Peresís also indicate, sought to coopt Syrian President Asad by considering seriously his regional plans.
The American and Israeli quest for regional integration has proven flawed and unrealistic. It has caused the West to neglect the dangerous strategic competitions that still define the region, quite independent of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such neglect has allowed a dangerous deterioration in the power and relative position of those forces potentially aligned with the West by allowing Syria to leverage the peace process both to block the United States from endorsing Jordanís efforts, and to remove some of the teeth behind growing Turkish-Israeli collaboration ó which will continue over the long-run despite Erbakanís current administration. In short, the quest for "comprehensive peace" blocks Israel and the United States from pursuing a durable regional strategy based on the balance of power.
Lebanon is Asadís Achilles heel. Iran is his strategic ally. Turkeyís Erbakan is his hope. Iraq is his objective. And an Abdallah-dominated Saudi Arabia is his shield from the West. The United States must support moves to challenge Syriaís position in Lebanon, to undermine Iran, to ensure Turkeyís long-term pro-Western tilt and integration into Europe, to support Jordanís efforts in Iraq, and to understand better the dynamics of Saudi succession as they relate to its foreign policy. Otherwise, the West will still not get peace. Instead it will look beyond Israelís borders at secular-Arab nationalismís final legacy ó a chaotic sea that resembles violent, medieval European feudalism (which will painfully intrude on the West), unfortunately infused with high-technology weaponry ó rather than at a stable balance of power system that can serve as a more solid basis for the Arabs upon which to build their nations and contemplate effective governance.
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